FAIRFIELD — A change in strategy made by Reese Sutter and a move her coach was unable to implement helped the Staples girls soccer team reach the Class LL title game.
Sutter, a sophomore who was named to the All-FCIAC team, scored twice, including what proved to be the game-winner in the 76th minute to spark the Wreckers to an exciting 3-2 semifinal win over Darien tonight at Fairfield Ludlowe.
“I’m just so honored to be able to contribute and help them because it means a lot,” said Sutter, referring to the team’s eight seniors. “When they were freshmen they won an FCIAC championship so we wanted to get them a state championship.”
Staples (17-4-1), the No. 4 seed, will face Ridgefield in Saturday’s final. The No. 7 Tigers are headed back for the third straight time after defeating Glastonbury, 1-0 on penalty kicks, in the other semifinal.
Sutter’s decisive play came after Darien’s Katie Ramsay scored the first of her two goals, in the 69th minute, to draw the Blue Wave within 2-1. Darien was unable to clear a ball that ended up on the feet of Sutter, who settled it and scored for a 3-1 lead.
“A couple of plays before I got a chance like that and I took it too early so I decided when I got it I would control it, take a touch and then try and find the back of the net, especially since the keeper was new,” Sutter said.
Caroline Orphanos had entered the game earlier in the half after Christine Fiore, the Blue Wave’s outstanding goalkeeper, was injured on Staples’ second goal. Orphanos had no chance on Sutter’s well-placed ball.
The play came, ironically, before Staples coach Barry Beattie could remove Sutter from the field.
“Just before she scored the third I was going to take her off,” Beattie said. “I didn’t think she was giving us enough without the ball. With the ball she was top class but I didn’t think she was doing enough without for a five-minute spell. So I had someone getting ready to go and then I turned around and she had the ball and she scored.”
Sutter’s first goal came on her own alteration. After several failed corner kick attempts, she moved her target spot on a set piece and put a ball straight into the net for a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute.
“I had been working on going a little lower because (Fiore) is good in the air and obviously tall, so I tried to drill it by the feet level so someone could tap it in and I got lucky and it went in,” Sutter said. “I decided to change up because I hadn’t had that much success going high.”
The Wreckers, who had taken over play midway through the first half, seemed to seize control of the game after Olivia Ronca’s goal in the 43rd minute. Staples was awarded a penalty kick. Fiore guessed correctly and went to her left to make the initial save. Ronca converted on the rebound.
Fiore injured her left elbow on the stop and was unable to get up to try and make a play. She had to be removed and did not return.
“It was heartbreaking for me to see Chrissie have to miss the last part of her senior game after everything she’s done,” Darien coach Leigh Parsons said. “I believe she’s the best keeper in the state. She’s been unreal this season. She would play with one arm if you let her.”
The Blue Wave (14-4-3), the eighth seeds, kept pressing and Ramsay twice got them within a goal. Her first score came in the air on a header in the 69th minute. She almost equalized moments after, but Staples goalkeeper Anna Sivinski came out and took the ball off her foot.
Ramsay was more successful with a high shot in the 78th minute, giving the Blue Wave hope just after Sutter’s second goal.
But the Wreckers were able to kill off the clock to advance.
“They had a sense of urgency and had really long balls, long throws,” Sutter said. “We had to make sure we kept our composure and kept our game and we were able to handle the pressure pretty well.”
Parsons praised his team’s relentless comeback attempt.
“Katie Ramsay…normally in a game like that we throw a bunch of bodies forward and it gets kind of scrappy,” Parsons said. “Those were two top-notch goals. It’s tough. It would have been very easy for our heads to go down and be upset and crumble. They did the total opposite and truly showed their character. They didn’t make it easy on Staples at all. We did enough today, maybe not during the course of the entire game, but we did enough in the game to get something out of it but it just wasn’t enough.”
This will be the Wreckers’ first trip to the final since 1995. They won the title in 1989.
“They made it hard work for us,” Beattie said. “Great game. I think we showed throughout the game that we were the team that was superior in how we played in terms of getting the ball down and finding our passes but Darien always shows grit, they always show determination and they fully deserved to get to the semifinal. It could have gone either way with a couple of chances. Those kids should feel very proud of themselves.”
Beattie took over as head coach when his current seniors were freshmen. Now they will try and deliver a state title.
“This has been a full circle for our seniors,” Beattie said. “The first year I took over as head coach the girls worked their way through an FCIAC final and then just building from there and now it has really taken shape. I think these seniors deserve the final. They are going to leave themselves a nice little legacy if they get that trophy.”