John Bruce, Contributor
FRENCHTOWN — In a matchup between teams coming off district championship runs in 2020, it was a little-known player who helped decide the outcome of Wednesday night’s match.
Unioto junior Roxi Storts-Berio, who scored her first career goal this past Monday, broke a 1-1 tie with 33 minutes to play, lifting Unioto to a 2-1 victory over Lynchburg Clay.
The Shermans (5-2-1) got out to a superb start with midfielder Avery Miller sending beautiful passes to streaking wingers, Storts-Berio and Karlee Renner, giving the Tanks multiple early looks. But that was without breaking through into the scoring column.
“Avery is our point guard,” Unioto coach Jeremy Clark said with a smile. “She feels most comfortable when she can see the whole field and set up the offense.”
While Unioto’s offense was clicking the best it had in recent games, it would be a lightning quick counter-attack by the Mustangs (2-2-2) that would light up the scoreboard first.
Just over 18 minutes into the game, the Mustangs forced a turnover in their defensive third before outletting the ball to Raelynn Ruble. Ruble, the Mustangs’ center midfielder, played a gorgeous ball ahead to Karlie Tipton, who just beat Sherman goalkeeper Maya Free to the ball and put it into the side netting for an early 1-0 lead.
The Shermans quickly attempted to answer, but the Mustangs’ backline of Natasha Davidson, Trinity Van Fleet, Ella Barber and Sophia Balon were able to keep the attack at bay. When the Tanks were able to get good looks, goalkeeper Philemina Toca was there to stop each attempt.
But with 8:29 to play in the opening half, Unioto’s Ashtyn Miller made a fantastic individual play to even the game. Miller recovered a loose ball near the top of the Mustangs’ goal box, turned to her dominant foot and found Toca near the six-yard box.
Miller then struck the ball and it sailed just under the crossbar for the game-tying goal.
Within seconds of the Shermans’ goal, Lynchburg’s Jade Massey nearly broke the tie with a vicious right-footed strike, but Free was able to parry the shot away to keep the game tied.
The second half repeated much of the same action of the first, but with Gracie Heath and Autumn Stanger joining Avery Miller in controlling the midfield. The Shermans used their physicality and strength to maintain possession, while also swinging the ball from sideline to sideline when necessary.
One of those necessary times led to the game-winning tally.
Avery Miller crossed the ball to a cutting Storts-Berio, who patiently waited for her defender to go past her. She then calmly slammed the ball into the side netting with 33:20 remaining.
The rest of the game was a study in defensive efficiency against an outstanding offensive attack.
Seniors Jaidyn McKell and Elle Pelletier, along with sophomore Amelia Uhrig and freshman Caylynn Bash, were able to contain the high-powered Mustang attack with great communication and timing.
McKell and Pelletier, holdovers from an outstanding defense from a year ago, have brought along Uhrig and Bash as they adjust to the varsity game. With the outstanding defensive effort, the Tanks only allowed one shot from the Mustangs’ over the final 33 minutes of the game, with Free easily containing it to help the Shermans to a key 2-1 victory.
It, however, wasn’t a perfect final few minutes for the Shermans, which is something Clark thinks that they can tighten up on.
“Game management,” Clark said when asked what his team needed to work on. “We can do a few things to clean up how we close out games.”
21:37 — LC, Karlie Tipton (5th), assist Raelynn Ruble (5th); 1-0 LC
8:29 — U, Ashtyn Miller (2nd), unassisted; 1-1
33:20 — U, Roxi Storts-Berio (2nd), assist Avery Miller (2nd); 2-1 U
Shots: Unioto 12, Lynchburg-Clay 7
Shots on Goal: Unioto 11, Lynchburg-Clay 6
Fouls: Unioto 3, Lynchburg-Clay 9
Saves: Unioto 5 (Maya Free 5), Lynchburg-Clay 9 (Philemina Toca 9)