Norwalk moves on
By TOM EVANS
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — The No. 7 Norwalk boys soccer team has had a habit of getting off to sluggish starts in games this season.
In the one-and-done CIAC Class LL state tournament, the Bears, 13-3-2, knew such a slow first 20 minutes could prove costly, especially against scrappy, athletic, No. 26 Ridgefield Tuesday night at Sam Testa Field.
Junior midfielder Mike Fraioli eased Norwalk’s collective minds by ripping a low blast through Tiger senior goalkeeper Dan Schaefer’s hands and into the net for a crucial 1-0 advantage 6:59 into the opening half.
“That put us up one goal in the beginning of the game, and it was huge to get a lead early,” said senior forward Anthony Fraioli, who sent a perfect crossing pass to his brother on the right wing. “We never play well to start games, so that goal was huge.”
A tough Norwalk inner defense made that score stand up for almost 50 minutes of game time, until Anthony Fraioli chipped a penalty shot off the bottom of the crossbar and in for a 2-0 lead with 24:07 left in the game.
“In soccer that second goal is such a critical goal,” Norwalk head coach Kurt Simonsen said. “That means the other team is not one shot away. Anthony’s goal took the pressure off our back defenders.”
The Bears added two more goals to complete a 4-0 victory that moves them into the second round. No. 10 E.O. Smith of Storrs — a 3-0 winner over No. 23 New Milford Tuesday — will come to Testa Field tomorrow at 2 p.m.
“E.O. Smith is good, they’ve been good, they’ve always been good,” Simonsen said. “And the state ranking for about the last 15 years, E.O. Smith has always been in it. They practice close to the UConn campus so that’s bound to rub off on them. We’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
If the effort Tuesday was not an A, it was certainly a solid B. Ridgefield had chances, particularly in the first 40 minutes, but strong play from senior defenders Matt Mitchell, Kris Whitteaker and John Kahlden, and some key saves by senior goalkeeper Mike Surace kept the Tigers at bay.
Surace made five saves in the game, four of them in the opening half. Schaefer stopped four shots in his 65 minutes of action.
“We weren’t able to take advantage of scoring opportunities; this is the way our whole season went,” Ridgefield head coach Phil Bergen said. “We’re disappointed but it’s no big surprise. It’s been like this all season. We were hoping, once we got into the playoffs, we’d be a little luckier with our finishing.”
Surace denied a header by sophomore defender Jack Nuland off a corner kick 1:35 into the game, and senior midfielder Colin Vick sent a shot wide right 48 seconds later as Ridgefield came out flying.
An Anthony Fraioli corner kick three minutes after that went through the box untouched. Ronald Machado got the ball in the middle of the field but Schaefer made a sliding save.
Norwalk kept the ball in the Ridgefield zone, culminating in the Fraioli-to-Fraioli score at 33:01. The teams traded possessions for most of the next 20 minutes before Surace stopped junior midfielder Kade Krichko’s 35-yard shot 9:30 before halftime.
The Tigers kept up the pressure, which resulted in a shot from junior midfielder Thomas Fisher from deep on the left wing. Surace dove, and Fisher appeared to have an open net. But senior midfielder Mauricio Pino was there to chest the ball out of harm’s way.
Surace stopped two more shots before the Bears mounted a late rush. Schaefer turned aside Mike Fraioli’s shot from a sharp angle on the left side with under 90 seconds to go in the half.
Norwalk retained possession and got Mike Fraioli free down the middle. After faking Schaefer out of position, Fraioli looked for the net but senior sweeper T.J. Brennan was there to make the save and preserve the one-goal margin.
Machado popped a head shot just over the crossbar at 24:35 of the second half, 28 seconds in front Anthony Fraioli’s decisive penalty kick.
“The keeper took my legs out on a ball in the corner,” Anthony Fraioli said of the play that gave him a point-blank scoring chance. “I just tried to stay focused and put the ball in the goal.”
Anthony Fraioli also set up the third goal, from Whitteaker, at the 18:40 mark. Rushing down the left side, Anthony Fraioli pulled up and launched a shot that slammed off the left post and right onto the foot of the charging Whitteaker. The defender rammed it home for a 3-0 advantage.
Anthony Fraioli netted his second goal of the game with 12 minutes remaining. Loose on the left wing, he got Schaefer to commit, went around the prone keeper and slid the ball into the vacated cage for his first goal of the season.
“This feels good,” Whitteaker said of his goal. “I was just trying to be aggressive and I got the goal. As a team we were aggressive. We played the game like we were down 1-0, then we finished the game with (second-half) goals. We’ll come out the same way (tomorrow).”