Staples vs. Greenwich (FCIAC Quarterfinals)

When Staples and Greenwich met in the regular season — 2 1/2 weeks ago, on Columbus Day — the Wreckers started sluggishly.  Down 2-0 after 23 minutes, they rallied to even the score by halftime, then won 3-2 on Dylan Hoy’s 2nd-half goal.

The Cardinals’ final match before the FCIAC tournament — 2 days ago — was a strong 0-0 draw with league-leading Norwalk.  The Wreckers had a very different opponent:  They shut out last-place Harding.

A large crowd filled The Hill for today’s FCIAC quarterfinals.  Kickoff was 3 p.m. — less than an hour after Staples’ Homecoming pep rally ended.  Sunny weather — a rarity for the Wreckers this year — added to the festive feel.

The match began far differently than the last time these 2 teams met.  Fourth-seeded Staples served notice to the #5 visitors.  Max Hoberman and David Hoffman streaked forward.  Dylan Evans’ shot was high — but the attack foreshadowed what was to come.

With Hoffman, Hoberman, Evans, Lorenz Esposito and Steve Smith pushing up, much of the first 10 minutes were played in the Westporters’ offensive half.

The pressure paid off at 9:59.  Hoffman won a ball, and served a cross.  Esposito’s header was punched away by keeper Jake Leaman.  Hoberman nearly converted the rebound.   The ball bounced out to Smith, who pushed the ball just outside the crowded box, then ripped a left-footed shot that found net.

Aware that goals follow goals, Staples kept pressing.  Keeper James Hickok saved a corner kick, and quickly found Hoffman on the left.  Esposito made a clever overlapping run, but shot just wide.

Hoy and Joe Greenwald came on, and kept up the pressure.

Greenwich looked for their dangerous striker Pieter Zenner, and sometimes found him.  But Harry Birch’s 36th-minute tackle typified the Wrecker defense.  Behind him Ben Root, Jake Malowitz, Alex Tonsberg — and Taylor McNair, the wide-ranging, hard-heading, tough-tackling center back,celebrating his 17th birthday today — kept the Cards out of real shooting range.

Holding a lead has sometimes been troublesome for the Wreckers.  At halftime they vowed to redouble their efforts.  Doing so meant being mentally, as well as physically, strong.

Communication was solid after intermission.  Good possession soccer and smart switches of fields led to a few solid chances — several off the foot of Evans.  Birch pushed up well — and tracked back just as nicely.

As the clock wound down, the Cards redoubled their own efforts.  Several times this fall, the Wreckers have wilted.  This time they kept their poise, kept collected, and kept pressing for an insurance score.  Kyle Hoberman and Terence Gibbons came on to provide added strength.

Through it all, Hickok stood tall.  With intelligent positioning, sure hands, a strong voice and varied distribution, he was a compelling force.

Staples managed the clock, and the game.  It could have been the Wreckers’ most consistent performance of the season — and it came at exactly the right time.

Like generations of teams before them, Staples gutted out an FCIAC tournament win.  And, as the weather turns frosty, like generations of Wrecker teams, this one sets its sights on the next match.  Final score:  Staples 1, Greenwich 0.  Season record:  11-2-4. 

QUICK KICKS:  The FCIAC semifinals are set for Tuesday, November 1, at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.  The Wreckers face either #1 Norwalk or #8 New Canaan, at 5 or 7 p.m….

Dylan Evans was cut above the eye in the 1st half, but continued to play (thanks to trainer “G” Deiso!) until his eye was nearly swollen shut.  Dr. Alan Meinke — the father of senior Will — took care of Dylan after the game, with 10 stitches…

The freshman team’s final game against Trumbull was rained out.  The squad started slowly this year, but roared to a 6-3-1 finish.  Congratulations to all, and coaches Chris O’Dell and Julien Delepine.

The pre-game meeting, just before the FCIAC quarterfinals. (Photo by Carl McNair)

Harry Birch and Ben Root stop a Greenwich attacker in his tracks. Steve Smith is ready to help, if needed. (Photo by Carl McNair)

A newly Mohawked Steve Smith works his magic. (Photo by Carl McNair)

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