Warriors’ run comes to an end

West Branch's Alexis Biery (7) heads the ball as Mooney's Carolyn Kay (10) gives chase during Thursday’s Div. II district final at South Range High School. (Salem News/Patti Schaeffer)

GREENFORD — Momentum plays such a key role in athletics. In Thursday night’s Division II girls soccer district final at South Range, momentum from a penalty kick played a key role in sixth-seeded Youngstown Cardinal Mooney upsetting the top-seeded West Branch Warriors 2-1.

“I thought we were the better team tonight, but unfortunately the better team doesn’t always win,” West Branch coach Cheryl Ficco said. “We had a lot more quality looks on goal then they did.”

“I’m really proud of us,” senior midfielder Elizabeth Ostadali said. “In the second game (of the year) we were in the locker room talking about going undefeated and grinding all the way. We were able to carry that out throughout the whole year. I think this is the farthest we have made it in a while so I’m proud of how we did.”

The Warriors — ranked eighth in the state poll — close the season with an outstanding 16-1-2 mark. The Cardinals improve to 13-3-4 and will play defending state runner-up Mentor Lake Catholic at Twinsburg High School on Tuesday night.

“We fought hard and we had a great season,” senior forward Gillian Koneval added. “I couldn’t be more proud, I mean stuff happens. Not always the better team goes home so you just have to live with it and learn from it.”

With the Warriors holding a 1-0 lead with just under 24 minutes remaining in regulation, Mooney senior forward Bre Evans drew a foul on a rush to the goal. The Mooney sophomore Mackenzie Avery buried the ensuing penalty shot in the right corner of the net to knot the game at 1-1.

“The momentum really shifted with the PK (penalty kick),” Ficco said. “I thought we were really controlling the play until they got the PK. Once they got the PK I felt Mooney was able to pick it up a little bit.”

But the Warriors responded with excellent scoring chances in less than a two-minute span with Lexi Biery kicking the ball on goal at the 16:56 mark, and then Gillian Koneval had a shot on goal at the 15:04 mark. On both occasions, the Cardinals’ goalkeeper Skylar Huda came up with big saves.

After weathering the Warriors onslaught, Mooney’s Bre Evans scored on a kick with 9:25 remaining in the match to put them up 2-1. The Cardinals bottled up the Warriors attack the remainder of the contest to keep them from making any serious threat to tie the match.

“I think these girls were voted a little lower than we should have been,” Mooney coach Tom Beck said about the Cardinals’ sixth seed. “I told them to use that as motivation, use that as fuel.”

The Warriors grabbed the early momentum in the contest when sophomore forward Jillian Pidgeon kicked the ball past the Cardinals’ goalkeeper with only 12:28 remaining in the first half. That goal came less than a minute after Biery had been denied on a scoring chance by the Cardinals’ Huda.

The Warriors and Cardinals played to a 1-1 tie back in September and according to Ficco the games were very comparable.

“It was rather similar,” she said. “It was another very action packed fast game when we played them in the regular season. It was a lot of back and forth and very quick soccer. So we anticipated it would be a game like this tonight.”

The Warriors outshot the Cardinals 11-3 , but Huda came up with several huge saves to stone the Warriors’ attack. At least five of the Warriors shots on goal in the game were prime scoring chances in front of the net. The Cardinals converted on two-of-three chances, including the penalty shot.

“Their goalie did a good job,” Ficco said. “She sure did. I thought honestly that we played a good game and I told the girls I was proud of how they played.

“I was proud of how many goals they achieved this season — being the first undefeated team from West Branch and setting the record for goals, games won in the season and the number of shutouts.”