RIDGEFIELD — To post 11 straight shutouts you need a lot of talent and a little bit of luck. The Ridgefield girls soccer team got both in the 55th minute of today’s game against Staples.
A rematch of last year’s Class LL championship, there were few prime chances in what would end up being an evenly played match until the Wreckers’ Catherine Sprouls put a header on goal. Ridgefield keeper Lauren Castle, moving in the opposite direction, was able to make a spectacular save.
That was the skill part.
The fortuitous portion occurred when the rebound came out to Ashley Wright, who put an open shot over the crossbar.
Castle’s counterpart, Zoe Barnett, would come through with a couple of late saves to preserve a 0-0 tie.
“We’ve been waiting for this so long,” Barnett said. “If this tie shows anything it’s we’re not giving up to the end, we’re going all the way.”
The two sides and St. Joseph are the only ones remaining without a loss. The Tigers (10-0-1) were the only one until today lacking a draw.
Staples coach Barry Beattie had effusive praise for Castle to the point that he said it was almost fair that the Wreckers were unable to convert on the second chance.
“That was the save of the season,” Beattie said. “My goalkeeper made two great saves but that was a different class. “If (Wright) had went with anything but her foot she scores. She thighs it or chests it or anything. She could have ran it in with her belly. I actually think, as much as it pains me to say it, a save like that deserves a striker to put it over on the second chance. They forget about that quality. (Castle) just showed her worth today.”
Because of the strength of the Tigers’ defense these past two seasons, which has included a pair of All-State center backs — Claire Middlebrook was in customary outstanding form today — Castle unfairly has gone overlooked.
Asked about her game-changing play, Castle said, “I just saw the ball and dove for it and honestly I thought after the rebound it was going in but she missed it and we kept the zero. It worked out.”
The teams met three times last year, with the Wreckers winning during the regular season and FCIAC semifinals and the Tigers taking a 2-1 decision for the state title. It is a competitive but friendly rivalry; Beattie and Ridgefield coach Iain Golding shared an apartment through last season.
“I think you can see both teams know each other well,” Golding said. “They were prepared for us, we were prepared for them and the game for a big spell kind of canceled itself out. They had some good chances, we had some good chances, the game could have gone either way.”
With 33 points, the Tigers are in a first-place tie with St. Joseph. The Wreckers, at 9-0-3, have 30 points.
The standings will get shaken up again when Ridgefield travels to play St. Joseph on Thursday. The Cadets and Staples play on the final day of the regular season.
Barnett, a senior who until this year had been stuck behind Anna Sivinski, was also called on to keep the game even. In the 73rd minute she turned away pressure from the Tigers’ Julia Bragg and Faith Arnold. Two minutes later Barnett came off her line and stopped Arnold on a breakaway.
“I would trust my team with my life,” Barnett said. “I believe in my defenders and the midfielders and the forwards. I’ve waited to be the varsity goalie for so long and I’m not messing it up. I’ve waited for so long and it’s my time now.”
Barnett said unlike, say, baseball, where pitchers get caught up in a game within a game, it is not the same with goalkeepers. Even one who has not allowed a goal.
“The other keeper played great,” Barnett said. “It’s not a competition, we both try to do what we do. It’s a hard position to play so I give her mad props for what she does.”
Likewise, Castle said there was no unusual sense of urgency to preserve her streak.
“It’s not really pressure because every game the goal is to keep the zero,” Castle said. “It doesn’t matter what happened in the game before. If you don’t get scored on you can’t lose.”
While the three unbeaten teams are the favorites to win the league title, there are a number of other sides capable of making legitimate runs.
“I’m pretty happy,” Beattie said. “We’re going to be fighting with them to the death in FCIACs and states and St. Joe’s is going to be right there. It’s going to be tough this year. I think a lot of teams are closer. If I could play Ridgefield every week and have games like that I’ll take it.”