Boys Soccer: Norwalk earns state tourney berth with shutout of Ridgefield
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — It seemed as if Tyler Dalton and the Norwalk High boys soccer team weren’t going to be denied.
Dalton, the senior three-year starter in goal, made seven huge second-half saves and sophomore Sebastian Echeverri scored two goals to carry the Bears to a key 2-0 victory over FCIAC playoff contender Ridgefield on Senior Night at Testa Field on Saturday.
The victory clinched a spot in the state tournament for Norwalk (5-6-4) and getting back there wasn’t lost on Dalton, especially since his team started 1-4.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “Towards the beginning of the season I had my doubts but now since we’ve picked it up… Coach (Chris) Laughton always says it doesn’t matter how you start the season, it matters how you end the season. Keeping that in mind while we’re getting hot, I think teams are going to be afraid to play us.”
Laughton’s team is certainly one of the hotter teams in the league, going 3-0-1 over its last four games with victories over Westhill, Fairfield Warde and Ridgefield (8-5-2), the latter two in position to clinch FCIAC playoff spots.
“I’m really proud of the boys and happy for the seniors,” Laughton said of the win. “We started out the year completely opposite of the way we wanted to and planned to. They could’ve packed it in but they didn’t. The second half of the year they’ve been resilient and we have only one loss in the last seven games.
“It shows the character of the team and this senior class,” he added. “The guys don’t want their season to end.”
As for Dalton’s performance, the coach said he wasn’t surprised with how the senior captain rose to the occasion.
“We’ve always had a lot of faith in him,” he said. “We’ve seen some of the stuff he’s done in games and practices and he displayed that again today. He’s one of the top keepers in the FCIAC and state and he showed it.”
Norwalk had the better of the play in the first half and put pressure on the Ridgefield defense and senior goalie Ryan Young. The Bears finally broke through with a goal to take a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute.
Santiago Mesa passed ahead to Echeverri on the right side of the field with Young closing in. Echeverri played the ball up over the goalie’s head, maneuvered around Young as the ball wound up at his feet and he easily booted the ball into the open net with 6:23 left until halftime.
“We’ve been on him to develop that killer instinct and the last few days in practice he’s been getting a lot better with his finishing,” Laughton said of the sophomore. “We all know what he’s capable of so hopefully this is his coming out party.”
Whereas the Bears were more active on offense in the first half, the Tigers had the majority of scoring opportunities in the second.
“I can’t be too disappointed with how we played,” Ridgefield head coach Phil Bergen said. “That’s a good team we played and there’s no disgrace losing here. We just need to finish and if we can finish, things would look differently. We just have to put our chances in the back of the net.”
The Tigers would need to tie Stamford in their last game to earn an FCIAC berth.
Allistair Dinnan’s shot through the middle was wrapped up by Dalton in the 48th minute, a header by Kenneth Guillaume in front was saved by Dalton in the 55th minute and, most impressive, Callahan Meachum had a great look with a shot at the left post in the 58th minute but Dalton made a diving save to knock the ball out of bounds.
Dalton credited his defense with doing a great job in front of him with senior Loizos Karaiskos leading in the back, senior Andres Arias doing his usual yeoman’s work and junior Esteven Restrepo, who Laughton said has been huge for the team all year, coming through with at least a half dozen clears.
With Ridgefield pushing forward, the Tigers left themselves open for a counter attack which led to Norwalk’s second goal in the 60th minute.
Anthony Hernandez provided Echeverri with a perfectly-placed through ball on the right side of the field and as Young came out to challenge, Echeverri blasted the ball to the far post and it found its way into the bottom left corner of the net with 20:33 remaining in the game.
“It feels great and this is Senior Night so I did it for the seniors,” Echeverri said of coming up big for the team.
Dalton finished with eight saves and Young had five stops. Each team took four corner kicks.
Now that the post season is a reality once again for the Bears, Laughton said he’d like to see his team make a run because anything can happen in the playoffs.
“We have two shutouts in a row against teams that are going to be playing in the FCIAC playoffs,” he said. “I feel like we’re playing our best soccer at the end of the year and we’re going to be a team that a lot of people aren’t going to want to play.”
Norwalk plays at Wilton on Monday in the regular-season finale.