With two weeks left in the regular season, the Staples High boys soccer team is in the unfamiliar position of scrambling for an FCIAC playoff spot.
However, the Wreckers may finally be peaking at the right time.
Gregory Shikowitz scored in the final minute of the first half and Diego Alanis tallied seven minutes into the second as Staples blanked host Fairfield Warde 2-0 on Friday afternoon for its first three-game winning streak of the season.
Goalkeeper James Hickok registered eight saves for the Wreckers, who improved to 6-3-1.
Warde, which came into the match tied for 12th in the FCIAC standings, dropped to 4-5-2 and may have a difficult path to the FCIAC playoffs. But the Mustangs followed their loss with a 10-1 win over Trinity Catholic on Monday.
"It's not out of a realm of possibility for us to sneak in but just the fact that we're in contention, I'm proud of what we accomplished," Warde head coach Justin Ottavio said. "Being in contention in this league, you have to tip your hat to them (the Warde players) for their effort and commitment."
At the conclusion of play on Friday, Staples remained in eighth place in the FCIAC standings with 19 points, one ahead of Trumbull (5-4-3) and Darien (6-6-0), and three behind Danbury (7-4-1). The Wreckers have played two fewer matches than Trumbull and Darien
"We did not have a rhythm early in the season because of a lot of rainouts, but I think we're picking up nicely," said Staples head coach Dan Woog, whose team began a busy stretch of five games in seven days.
The Wreckers had a quick turnaround with a noon game on Saturday against Trinity Catholic before facing Harding on Monday, Fairfield Ludlowe on Tuesday and Westhill on Thursday.
The back-breaker for the Mustangs came when Shikowitz scored with just 48 seconds left in the first half, and Woog acknowledged that the goal was huge.
"Very big," Woog said. "Tom Henske, our goalkeeper coach, his mantra is `first five and last five' (minutes). We have to be hyper-vigilant both to score and not be scored on."
Each team had six shots in an evenly played first half and the Mustangs figured they would get to the intermission in a scoreless tie, but Shikowitz banged in a rebound to give the Wreckers the lead.
"We came out strong and we had our opportunities," Ottavio said. "Prior to that goal, I think we had the better of the opportunities, but that guy had good position on our defender."
Alanis gave the Wreckers some insurance when he deflected Andrew Travers' cross inside the right post in one motion for a pretty goal.
"It was all Travers, a tremendous effort," Alanis said. "He came down the sideline, he gave me a perfect ball and I just finished."
Goalkeeper Steven Bartlett registered eight saves for the Mustangs.
"Both their goals came on miscues from us in terms of defensive assignments and they move well off the ball, so obviously they wreaked havoc on marking," Ottavio added. "I think the goal right before half was a huge momentum shifter but in the same vein, I think we pushed and we showed some heart and some effort, and character as well."
Bob Birge is a freelance writer