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By Jerry Holsworth - email@example.com
BERRYVILLE -- With 18:36 left in the second half and lightning beginning to flash in the western sky, the referee of Clarke County's girls soccer game with Manassas Park mercifully ended the 8-0 Eagle rout on Tuesday.
The game, which included a first-half hat trick, was an almost flawless performance by the Clarke County midfield and defense.
"We have about four players right now who we're very confident in at midfield," Eagles coach Terry Ellis said. "They're doing fantastic, but they have a very solid defense behind them, too. That gives us more opportunities to play more freely and attack more."
The victory sets up a showdown between undefeated Bull Run District rivals next Tuesday when the Eagles (7-1, 2-0 in district) travel to George Mason.
The game began with a fierce attack on the Manassas Park goal, with Clarke County taking four shots in the first four minutes of play.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, none of those shots found the back of the Manassas Park net, but their fifth try did.
Clarke County center forward Aubrey Fletcher took a pass from Meredith Roberts and hammered the ball past Cougars goalkeeper Kelsey Cirrito from 10 yards out for the first goal of the game just five minutes after the opening whistle.
Three minutes later, Sarah Alger volleyed the ball in from five yards out off a pass from Courtney Butterfass to put Clarke County up 2-0.
In all, the Eagles took 31 shots in the first half without allowing Manassas Park a single shot on goal. Clarke County's goalkeeper was only required to touch the ball twice in the first half.
Eagles midfielders consistently beat their Manassas Park counterparts to the ball throughout the game, giving the Cougars no opportunities to set up an attack on the Clarke County goal.
"We really played together well tonight," Eagles center midfielder Logan Johnson said. "We really set our standards high because we know what we can expect from the rest of the district."
When Manassas Park did manage to get past midfield, the Clarke County fullbacks rarely let the Cougars beat them to the ball.
The result was an almost continuous attack on Cirrito, who did manage to make five first-half saves. That, however, had little effect on the Eagles' attack.
With 24 minutes left in the first half, Fletcher got her second of three first-half goals. The Clarke County sophomore scored again just six minutes later off a pass from Olivia Hart to put the Eagles up 4-0.
It was Fletcher's second first-half hat trick against the Cougars in as many games.
"I got one against them last year when we played them," Fletcher said. "I thought the key was how well we connected with our passes. That's the best we've done in that area of the game so far this year. It was great to see that, since we've been working hard on that in practice, and now it's paying off."
Fletcher was not the only Eagle to make a run at a hat trick against the Manassas Park defense. Johnson scored on a breakaway with 10:34 left in the half, then shot the ball past Cirrito with 3:20 left before intermission to put Clarke County up 6-0.
If Manassas Park thought that halftime adjustments were going to slow down the Eagles' attack, it took Clarke County just a few seconds to prove that notion wrong.
Roberts smashed a goal past Cirrito just 35 seconds into the second half.
"We were very happy with our shot ratio tonight," Johnson said. "We took a lot of shots, but we converted a lot of them, too."
With the Eagles comfortably ahead, Ellis cleared his bench after Roberts' goal, but it had little effect on play. The Clarke County subs were just as dominating as the starters. Manassas Park had just one weak shot on goal in the second half, and the Eagles responded with 18 shots of their own over the final 22 minutes of play.
Rachel Sefton ended the game with a breakaway goal with 18:36 left on the clock.
"This was really about the team," Ellis said. "The whole team, the defense, the midfield and the offense are really working well together right now."