Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — You didn’t have to ask Eastern Brown what winning a district championship felt like on Thursday because the Warriors’ team-wide smiles said all that needed to be said.
With a bevy of second half goals in a 4-1 win over Wheelersburg — a victory that was dominant from start to finish — the Warriors added a page to the school’s record books by claiming the program’s first-ever district title.
When this year’s seniors were freshmen, they talked about sharing the moment they had on Thursday. A gold district medal, claiming the trophy, celebrating with their teammates … the whole nine yards.
Then, it was just a dream. Now, it’s a mission accomplished.
“This was our goal. When I came to Eastern Brown four years ago, these seniors that came in as freshmen said they wanted to win the league and make history by winning the district,” Eastern Brown coach Dan Silvis said. “They’ve done it. What can you say? They’ve done what they said they were going to do.”
And they did it against a team that’s been an Achilles’ heel for quite some time now.
If you think last year’s 4-3 overtime loss to Wheelersburg in a district final — a game that Eastern held a 3-1 lead in — didn’t factor into Thursday’s result, you’re fooling yourself.
The Warriors (14-1-2) have tasted that loss since the time it happened.
“We talked quite a bit about [last year’s district final loss]. Not just about last year but the year before and the year before,” Silvis said. “We didn’t want to fall back into that. I think the girls were aware of it and they wanted to win this game. We talked about how we lost and it was dumb mistakes. We didn’t want to make those same mistakes tonight, especially defensively.”
Silvis is correct. Eastern’s defense was suffocating, holding the Pirates (14-3-2) to three shots all night long.
But as impressive as the defense played, the offense stole the limelight.
Led by a host of players — including Bailey Dotson, Torie Utter, Mary Litzinger, Rylee Leonard and Emma Prine — Eastern fired 29 shots at Wheelersburg’s goal, 23 of which were on target.
“We kept pressure on them. And we work on ball possession all the time,” Silvis said. “Simple little passes, kick to feet … we started the game playing [Wheelersburg’s] type of game. But we’re the type of team that puts a lot of pressure on a defense and we got back to that. We wanted to be relentless and we try to wear teams down. That was our goal tonight.”
Wheelersburg’s Jocelyn Tilley provided the night’s first score, which came off a free kick at the 26:45 mark in the first half. Tilley’s shot caressed the top of the net, just over the outstretched arms of Eastern’s keeper from a good way out.
But that was all the Pirates’ offense could muster.
At the 21:20 mark, the Warriors provided the equalizer via Bailey Dotson, who beat the keeper off an assist from fellow senior Torie Utter.
Throughout the remainder of the first half, Eastern controlled possession but couldn’t find the back of the net.
That’s not due to lack of effort, but rather the play of Wheelersburg keeper Brynley Preston. Preston had herself a busy night, tallying 17 saves. She was the sole reason her Pirates were in the game for so long.
But even Preston’s superb play wasn’t enough to stave off a high-powered Warrior attack.
With 18:22 left in regulation, Leonard headed a perfect ball to a streaking Litzinger. The senior spit two defenders and gave the Warriors a 2-1 advantage — and ultimately the game-winner.
“I think we started out with our nerves so high that we were just kicking it around,” Litzinger said. “We realized that we couldn’t play [Wheelersburg’s] game, we just had to play our game. We just worked it out. After halftime, we passed it down, passed it around and got our goals.”
Less than six minutes later, Leonard provided insurance with a goal to make it a 3-1 game at the 12:44 mark. Then, with 11:32 remaining, Dotson scored for a second time — and the second time off an assist from Utter — to pound the nails in the coffin on a 4-1 victory.
“This is huge for our class. We have been in this game since freshman year and we’ve lost after [being ahead] every single year,” Dotson said. “To win this, to dominate this whole game and not lose our head, this is the best feeling ever. Like ever.”
Eastern now advances to a Division III regional semifinal, a new territory to conquer, on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. The Warriors will meet with the winner of Berlin Hiland and Bishop Rosecrans, who will play on Saturday in a district final of their own.
“We just have to do what we’ve been doing,” senior Skylar Gould said. “Every person has to work hard. Even on our bench … They’ve been our cheerleaders since day one. They contribute just as much as we do.”