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Staples Soccer Advances on Penalty Kicks

WESTPORT, Conn. – Staples goalkeeper James Hickok was a rookie to penalty kicks in a high school soccer game. He played like a veteran, however, in helping the Wreckers nip New Canaan, 1-0, in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference semifinals Wednesday night at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.

The junior stopped two shots as Staples prevailed in penalty kicks, 3-2, to earn a berth to Friday’s championship game against Trumbull. The fourth-seeded Wreckers meet the No. 2 Golden Eagles Friday at 7 p.m. at Ludlowe. Staples will attempt to win its fourth straight league title on Friday, and its fifth in six years.

Hickok starred in the shootout. He stopped New Canaan’s Scott Levene on the first shot, and Timothy Pritchard fired high for the Rams on the second. The Rams buried the next two. Max Hoberman, Ben Root and Steve Smith converted for Staples, giving the Wreckers a 3-2 lead. Steven Valente stepped up to take the final shot for the Rams, and Hickok made a sliding stop to send the Wreckers to the final.

“That’s my first time in high school we’ve had to go to a shootout,’’ Hickok said. “New Canaan played a great game. They’ve been in a lot of these shootouts. I wasn’t sure it was over. Then I saw everyone celebrating.”

Hickok’s stop ended a riveting contest in which both sides had several opportunities to net the game-winner in regulation. Hickok (four saves) and Levene (five saves) played brilliantly throughout. Staples fired three quality chances on goal in the first 10 minutes. New Canaan made several quality runs and twice appeared to have open chances at the goal. Senior Jake Malowitz cleared both opportunities. “Jake’s been doing that all year,’’ Hickok said.

“I thought it was really a well-played game,’’ Staples coach Dan Woog said. “New Canaan is so well-organized defensively. Our guys have made tremendous strides. They weren’t playing this type of defense earlier in the year.”

Staples did a brilliant job on New Canaan star Jon-Luke Ferrandino, with strong defensive performances by Ben Root, Taylor McNair, Alex Tonsberg, Malowitz and Harry Birch. It was a classic defensive performance by Staples, a team known for its ability to defend the goal.

Anchoring it all was Hickok. He and Levene are regarded by many as two top goalies in the league. He viewed the penalty kicks as a battle between them. On this night, he came out on top.

“I definitely looked at the penalty kicks as a battle against him,’’ Hickok said. “He’s great competition. It was a lot of fun.”

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