John Bruce, Contributor
LANCASTER — In a matchup between two of the blue-bloods of girls soccer in the Southeast District on Thursday night, Unioto was able to get a measure of revenge after two excruciating losses a season ago.
Last season, Fairfield Union defeated Unioto, twice, 1-0 on its way to a district championship. In fact, over the past four seasons, only Fairfield Union and Unioto have won the district title in the Southeast District, each winning twice.
With the game being billed as a battle of the titans of sorts, it certainly did everything to live up to the billing.
In the early going, the Falcons were on the attack multiple times with Unioto’s Sydney Free being there to stymie each attempt at the net.
The Falcons’ Caroline Brown and Isabel Ruff continued their onslaught throughout the game, but the Shermans’ backline was more than up to the task. With how hard the Falcons were pressing forward, the Shermans were able to make a push offensively on the counter attack just five minutes into the match.
Abi Seals streaked up the field from her right back spot and was fouled from behind about 30 yards away from the goal. This set up a free kick from Brandy Robinson, who would drop in a gorgeous cross, where Jaidyn McKell touched it to Erin Callahan, who calmly slotted the ball into the net to put the Tanks ahead 1-0 with 34:13 left in the opening half.
The Falcons didn’t let up in their attack, with Brown and Ruff each getting a great look, but Free would deny them each. Brown’s finest attempt of the first stanza forced Free to lay out to her left and push the shot wide. Ruff let loose a rocket from outside the 18 that Free was able to parry off the crossbar and over the top of the goal to maintain the lead.
Outside of those attempts, the Shermans defense’ of McKell, Seals, Allie Cox, Elle Pelletier, and Ryleigh Bode did an outstanding job of forcing the Falcons to shots outside of the box. Cox and McKell were cool, calm and collected all evening, despite continual attacks with the long ball by the Falcons.
“We knew from experience last year that they like to get the ball to Ruff,” McKell said about the Falcons junior distributor. “She likes to play long balls, so we knew we needed to be prepared for that.”
“And to hold our line too,” Cox added, “We played to our game and every single one of our girls on our team are amazing and tonight was just redemption for last year.”
While the game stayed tight for the first half, the Shermans made one key adjustment that opened up the field and eventually led to their second goal.
“We noticed a big gap between their middle back and outside back,” second-year Shermans coach Jeremy Clark said. “So we made the adjustment to switch the field into that gap and it opened things up.”
While the field was certainly more open for the Tanks’ outside midfielders, Emily Hanes and Autumn Stanger, the shots weren’t coming yet for the purple and gold.
However, with less than 13 minutes to play, a dynamite combination for the Shermans led to another scoring opportunity. The connection of Robinson to Ashton Miller to Stanger gave the Tanks a great look in the box, but Stanger would be taken down from behind.
The Shermans were then correctly awarded a penalty kick, which McKell would calmly strike into the strings for a 2-0 lead.
“I missed a PK [penalty kick] last year in the Waverly game,” McKell quipped. “So I came into this season by practicing at least 10 kicks each night in practice.”
Practice made perfect for the junior defender. And that goal was big. Not only did it extend the lead, but it gave the Shermans the necessary room they needed to hold onto the victory.
Over the final 12 minutes of the contest, the Falcons upped their offensive efforts even more, which finally paid off with 3:24 to play when Brown was finally able to put the Falcons on the scoreboard.
It wouldn’t be enough however, as Cox, Seals, Gracie Heath, and Avery Miller all won 50/50 balls to keep the Falcons at bay and lock down a massive win for the Shermans.
“We play a very difficult schedule, so getting a win over a very good team like this is a really big win for our girls,” Clark added. “It’s really good for their confidence.”
Fairfield Union outshot the Shermans 20-7, but many were forced to the outside by the Shermans’ stingy defense. Although, even when they did have good looks, Sydney Free did what she does best, which is be one of the top goalkeepers in the state of Ohio.
Free finished with eight saves and also helped keep her defenders’ confidence up through her steadiness on the backline.
“Sydney is a wonderful goalie.” Cox said and McKell then added, “It makes me more confident as a player, because I know that I have backup behind me.”
Unioto is off for the next eight days before they host Westland on Sept. 12.
|5||SHOTS ON TARGET||9|
|8 (Sydney Free)||SAVES||3 (Bella Neal)|
|– Erin Callahan (U)|
– Jaidyn McKell (U)
– Caroline Brown (FU)
|– Free kick by Robinson, touch from McKell to Callahan inside 6|
– Penalty Kick
– Cross to Brown, finish to far left post