Staples boys soccer falls to Greenwich in FCIAC semis
Greenwich High School standout forward Nick Bartels walked gingerly off the field with the assistance of Cardinals trainer Pete Falla during the 38th minute of Monday night's FCIAC Tournament semifinal round showdown against Staples due to a shin injury. But nothing was going to keep the Cardinals' leading scorer on the sideline once the second half commenced.
After icing his shin during the halftime break, Bartels went back on the field and did what he does best for the Cardinals -- score clutch goals.
The always opportunistic Bartels tallied in the 56th minute, giving third-seeded Greenwich a hard-fought 3-2 comeback win over seventh-seeded Staples in a physical matchup at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. The defending FCIAC champion Cardinals (13-3-2) will face top-seeded Fairfield Ludlowe in Wednesday's 7 p.m. FCIAC Tournament final at Norwalk High School. Ludlowe beat No. 4 seed Norwalk in Monday's second semifinal.
"Nick banged up his shin pretty good in the first half, but he was out there again," GHS coach Kurt Putnam said. "I have coached him since he was 11 and I know he's the type of player that will run through walls for me. If he broke his leg, he would say, "send me out there with a pair of crutches."
Greenwich, which made Staples spend a lot of time playing defense in the second half, took a 3-2 advantage, courtesy of the pressure it applied. Receiving a crossing pass just outside the 18 from senior midfielder Paul Quiroga, Bartels one-timed a left-footed shot past Wreckers junior goalie Noah Schwaeber inside the right post, putting the Cardinals ahead, 3-2, with 24:26 remaining in the second half.
"We knew that Staples was very energetic and that they were going to try to close us down," Bartels said. "But we also knew if we could pressure their backline we would have opportunities to score goals. Two of our goals came from pressure that we created."
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Staples, which had leads of 1-0 and 2-1, received a goal from sophomore Josh Berman and an own goal off a quirky play in the opening half.
"We were executing our game plan and it was nice getting the first goal, but goals follow goals and they were definitely able to find seams," said Wreckers coach Dan Woog, whose squad beat Greenwich in the regular season. "They came back twice and did a nice job of getting the go-ahead goal."
With their first lead of the game at 3-2, the Cardinals maintained possession the majority of the final 25 minutes.
"The second half we played our game and our game was to stop them from playing their game," Putnam said. "Their game is pretty scripted and very effective. At halftime we talked about how we couldn't allow them to play certain type of passes they like to make."
Staples (10-6-2) seized a 1-0 lead in the third minute in unconventional fashion. Senior midfielder Gabe Pensak's throw in went past numerous players, including GHS senior goalie Joe DeMuyt, into the goal. A goal can't be scored off a throw in without being touched by a player and the officials ruled that the ball did indeed, deflect off a player, putting the Wreckers ahead early. The Cardinals evened the score at 1-1 in the 33rd minute. Pressuring the Wreckers' defenders deep in the box, Cards sophomore forward Alejandro Maclean scored off a feed from Bartels from approximately five yards out.
"Nick did a fantastic job of getting the ball from a defender and I was able to get it and get a quick shot off," Maclean said. "That helped us get the momentum back. We showed a lot of mental toughness by coming back from a goal down twice."
Berman's tally on a header off a set piece (throw in) with 20:30 to go in the first half gave the Wreckers a 2-1 edge, but GHS once again scored the equalizer, courtesy of Bartels. Winning a 50/50 ball in the air off a corner kick from senior midfielder Chris Galeano, Bartels rose and headed the ball inside the left post, making it 2-2 in the 27th minute.
The Cardinals had the better of the play during the second half, as they pushed up hard and pressured the ball. When the Wreckers threatened, defenders such as senior Dan Ozizmir effectively cleared the ball out of harm's way.
"It feels unbelievable to get back to the FCIAC finals again," Ozizmir said. "We have such a tough group of guys who have battled through all of the adversity -- it was not an easy road here. It shows the mental toughness this team has."
Said Woog: "In the second half, they were able to put their imprint on the game more than we wished. They have a couple of really potent weapons who are fast, crafty, bang the ball forward and run on."
DeMuyt, starting his second game in goal place of Jose Romero (leg injury) made five saves for the Cardinals. Schwaeber of Staples made seven saves, several of which kept the Cardinals from extending their lead in the second half. With a new-look squad due to the graduation of a wealth of players from last year's championship team, the Cardinals didn't know what to expect heading into the season. Now they are only one win from repeating as FCIAC champions.
"I think we have far overachieved," Putnam said. "Getting a chance to defend our title is an accomplishment in itself."