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By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- If Central's girls soccer team thought that an undefeated season, a regular season Shenandoah District championship and two regular season victories over Buffalo Gap would intimidate the Bison, the Falcons got a rude awakening shortly into their semifinal tournament match on Monday.
Try as Central might, Buffalo Gap's defense, led by freshman goalkeeper Maggie Keeler, refused to give in to a relentless Falcons attack.
"This was a really tough game," Falcons center midfielder Hannah Stephens said. "I've never seen Buffalo Gap play as hard as they did tonight. It was a fight from start to finish."
Central, after a frustrating, scoreless first half, however, made the necessary adjustments at halftime and finally took the Bison 3-1 to advance to Thursday's championship game against Riverheads at Central High School.
The scoreless first half wasn't due to a lack of opportunities, though. The Falcons outshot Buffalo Gap 11-5 during the first half and 5-1 over the first 10 minutes of play, but it just seemed like nothing worked.
With 15 minutes gone in the half, Falcons forward Katie Bennett was frustrated on a near-perfect header off a Katie Philpott corner kick when it went straight into the Bison goalkeeper's hands.
"It was very aggravating to get all of those opportunities and come away without a goal," Bennett said. "That was the first header I had ever tried in a game, and I was sure that it was going in. That was frustrating."
Fellow forward Theresa Barela had the same experience as Bennett twice in the first half. With 20 minutes left in the half, she launched a hard header of her own, only to see it bounce off the crossbar. Several minutes later, Barela shot a perfect ball from 20 yards out past Keeler only to watch hit the far post.
"I was actually feeling pretty good after that shot," Barela said. "Our coach teaches us to aim for the far post, and I guess I just did too good of a job of following his instructions. But I knew that if we kept plugging away, the shots would eventually go in."
Falcons coach Hap Kwiatkowski made an adjustment at halftime that countered the Bisons' defensive strategy and opened up more scoring opportunities for his team.
"They were playing an offsides trap on us in the first half," Kwiatkowski said. "We moved one of our forwards back to midfield and played a 4-4-2. That opened up some lanes for breakaways, and we were finally able to get some goals."
It took almost no time for the new strategy to work. Less than three minutes into the second half, a breakaway by Central forced a corner kick. When Barela's header bounced off the crossbar, Lia Gosney was right there to smash the ricochet into the net for the first Central goal of the game.
Eight minutes later, a breakaway by Philpott forced Keeler to leave the net. Philpott cleverly lofted the ball over Keeler's head for the second Central goal of the game.
Barela liked the strategy so much that 10 minutes later, she lofted a ball from 35 yards out that flew over Keeler's head for the Falcons' final goal of the game.
Buffalo Gap, trailing 3-0 with less than 20 minutes of play, was not yet ready to quit, and launched a furious attack on the Central goal.
Falcons goalkeeper Amanda Carmain was up to the challenge, making five second-half saves -- including two that she literally grabbed off a Bison player's foot.
"I really thought that our girls played about as hard and as well as they could play," Bison coach Jeff May said. "Central was able to take advantage of a couple of plays by Keeler that turned out to be a little too aggressive, but she just a freshman and overall she's had a great season."