WESTPORT — It had been a difficult time for Ava Simunovic of late. The Staples sophomore had two headers go over the crossbar against Ridgefield in the FCIAC semifinal and had been unlucky in practice leading in to the Class LL second-round matchup against Fairfield Ludlowe.

But Simunovic was able to break through her late-season slump when she headed in a second-half goal off a corner kick to give the Wreckers a 1-0 win over the Falcons on Thursday afternoon.

“It’s really frustrating because you really want to score,” Simunovic said. “When I got in the box, I kept saying, ‘I’ve got to get this in,’ and when it came, I just used everything that I’d been working for and hit it in hard.”

After losing in heartbreaking fashion in the FCIAC championship game a week ago, Staples bounced back in a big way against another in-conference foe to advance into the quarterfinals.

“It was hard to lose (in FCIACs),” Simunovic said. “You kind of feel deflated. But I think our team was really good this game and we’re kind of picking our heads back up.”

The Wreckers had a rough go of things offensively through much of the game, as the Ludlowe defense — anchored by goalkeeper Natalie Kelchner — continued to hold firm despite the several close calls.

The team knew it would be a tall order to find the back of the net against an experienced, tough team, Staples coach Barry Beattie said.

“They have an excellent goalkeeper for starters,” he said. “She’s one of the top ones in the league, so it always takes something a little special to beat her.”

Ludlowe had a number of chances in the final minute of the game, but after a free kick sailed wide, time ran out on the Falcons’ season.

“Today my girls stepped up and they played them hard,” Ludlowe coach Peter Nikac said. “We had opportunities to score we just couldn’t convert. And the way they responded to that goal, you hate to be scored on during a set play, but they responded by attacking and pushing. So I’m proud of the girls and the way they stepped up.”

FCIAC GANTLET

With the win, the Wreckers advance to the Class LL quarterfinals where they await the winner of Trumbull and Fairfield Warde. Staples defeated Warde in their lone matchup this season 2-0 on Sept. 14, and in the only meeting with the Golden Eagles, the Wreckers lost to Trumbull at home 2-1 after blowing a one-goal lead in the second half on Sept 19.

FIELD FACTOR

Both teams dealt with a softer playing field due to the wet weather earlier in the week, and each coach said that it was a noticeable factor in the game. Ludlowe’s Peter Nikac said, “The field out there, the conditions were a little wet and slippery, but it was the same for both teams.” Staples’ Barry Beattie said: “It was really important that we stuck to our game plan and didn’t worry about how soft the field was. I think the field being so soft had an effect on the game, but it had less of an effect on us because we play on it, we train on it, so we’re sort of used to that surface.”

QUOTABLE

“We’re really excited because we had a hard loss in the FCIAC championship, so it was kind of hard to get back. But this win means a lot and it’s just an opportunity for us to play another game. I don’t think any of us want to see the season end, so another win just means another game, and that’s all we want.” — Staples sophomore Ava Simunovic after knocking off Fairfield Ludlowe in the Class LL state tournament.

ajohnson@hearstmediact.

com; @aronJohnson_

STAPLES 1, FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 0

LUDLOWE0 0—0

STAPLES0 1—0

Records: Staples 14-3-1, Ludlowe 7-5-6. Goals: S—Ava Simunovic. Assists: S—Anne Amacker. Goalies: S—Anna Sivinski (2 saves); L—Natalie Kelchner (11 saves). Shots: S—15; L—5.