John Bruce, Contributor
MINFORD — In a night full of SOC possibilities, the Wheelersburg Pirates did just what they had to do to bring home the conference title.
Following an early season 3-2 win at home over Minford, all the Pirates (12-2-2) needed to do on Thursday was earn a draw to wrap up their sixth SOC II championship in the last eight seasons.
However, that was far from an easy task due to a hungry Minford Falcons squad.
Minford (11-4-1) got out to a quick start on its Senior Night, getting multiple shots off within the opening five minutes and putting constant pressure on the Wheelersburg back line.
Feeding junior Haley Knore was a key for the Falcons’ offense, while stopping her was clearly a major key for the Pirates if they wanted to go home with the crown. Knore made multiple major runs in the first quarter of the game, but was unable to beat the Pirates’ Brynley Preston. Preston wound up making a spectacular diving save to keep the game scoreless on a shot from freshman Lexi Conkel.
The Pirates tried to gain control of momentum through the midfield play of Jocelyn Tilley, Annie Coriell and Kylan Darnell. Playing balls forward to Bella Miller and Mia Vastine gave the Pirates multiple looks on goal, but they would be stymied by Sweeper Ella Estep or goalkeeper Neavah Porter.
With 11:31 to play in the opening half, the Falcons were awarded a corner kick after a clearance from the Pirates went over the end line. The Falcons would make the most of the opportunity, with Knore scoring her 27th goal of the season on an assist from Conkel. The ball was sent in and Knore was able to gather it before just barely putting enough on her shot to beat Preston and give Minford a 1-0 lead.
The Pirates made a hard push offensively throughout the rest of the half, but were unable to finish the one great chance they had near the end of the half. With a loose ball around the six-yard box, the Pirates had a wide open net, but the shot went high of the crossbar, leading to a 1-0 lead for the Falcons at the break.
Both teams came out of halftime with some adjustments made, including the Wheelersburg backline playing a higher line, which led to some loud noises coming from the Falcons’ faithful in the early going of the second half.
On two separate occasions, the Falcons appeared to beat the Pirates backline and have breakaways, but Preston was also playing a high line, which led to her easily handling the breaks for the Falcons.
Another adjustment for the Pirates moved Annie Coriell forward early in the second half, which paid off rather quickly. The junior received a pass from Tilley on the outside corner of the box. Coriell next used her substantial ball-skills to deke her defender and get a quick shot off that was perfectly placed into the far upper-90 of the goal to tie the match at 1 with 28:11 to play.
Building off the momentum of that goal, the Pirates continued their attack over the next few minutes, eventually leading to their third corner kick attempt of the evening. Coriell, taking the kick from the left corner, sent in a low, hard ball that freshman Mia Vastine would crush into the side netting to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead with 22:39 to play in the match.
The Falcons, knowing that they still needed two goals to earn a share of the SOC II title, ramped up the offensive pressure. Knore, Conkel, Maggie Risner and Ava Cronin continued to pressure the Pirates’ backline, but were unable to make a dent in the scoreboard until the 10:29 mark when Conkel took advantage of a loose ball in the box.
Similar to the play where the Pirates put the ball high in the first half, but this time, the freshman calmly put it over the goal line to tie the match and give the Falcons’ SOC hopes renewed life.
Full credit to the Pirates over the final minutes, because they continued to play for the win instead of packing in the defense to just hold onto the tie. This decision opened up play greatly over the final 10 minutes, but neither team was able to get a great look at the goal and the match ended with a hard-fought and well-played 2-2 tie.
The tie meant that the Pirates (9-0-1) finished ahead of the Falcons (8-1-1) in an SOC2 race that both teams dominated throughout the season.
Minford’s boys finish SOC slate undefeated
On the boys side, Minford (15-1, 10-0 SOC II) finished a perfect league slate with a 3-1 victory over the Pirates (12-4, 7-3 SOC II). The Falcons got the scoring started early when freshman Myles Montgomery found the net for the 10th time on the season, before defender Charlie Neal scored for the first time just six minutes later.
Minford held a 2-0 lead at the half, to which senior Zane Miller would add to early in the 2nd half. Wheelersburg’s Braxton Rase kept the Pirates alive with a goal, but the Falcons were able to hold on to the lead to finish off a second win over Wheelersburg this fall.