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By Shaun Broy - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- On paper, Thursday's Northwestern District play-in game between the fourth-seeded Sherando Warriors and fifth-seeded Skyline Hawks appeared to be over before it even began.
The two teams stepped onto the pitch at Handley and were faced with either win or go home for good. The victors would be headed for a date with the top-seeded James Wood on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Northwestern District tournament semifinals at Sherando.
When the final whistle blew to end the game, the Warriors had survived with a 1-0 victory.
"We didn't come ready to play," Warriors coach Patrick Anderson said. "We weren't ready mentally to play tonight; it's taking care of the little things and then our not finishing was big. We didn't have that total mental focus that was needed."
The Warriors (6-7-3 overall, 5-3-1 Northwestern District) streaked into the match as arguably the hottest team in the district. After sputtering through a disappointing first half of the season, Sherando righted the ship through the back half of their regular season. The Warriors picked up even more steam as they went undefeated through their final five games, notching wins over the district's top teams.
It was a different story altogether for Skyline. The Hawks (1-15 overall, 0-9 Northwestern District) had struggled, to say the very least, through their entire season. They faced adversity on and off the field. Skyline had been walloped and outscored by their opponents 90-4 over 15 matches.
The Skyline team not only showed up at the Handley Bowl, but 11 Hawk players took to the field and their only two back-up players took their seats on the lonely aluminum bench along the sideline.
"Today they just really wanted it," Hawks coach Matt Dusing said. "Mentally they wanted it, and physically they wanted it. That's just what it comes down to."
The first half saw erratic play, with neither team able to get into a comfortable groove. The Warriors did, however, create more opportunities to put the ball in the net in the first half, but were only able to slip through the pesky Skyline defense and then sneak the ball past Hawks goalkeeper James Clatterbuck once.
The goal came in the 16th minute of play, when Baylen McCarthey sprinted right down the middle of the field with the ball at his toes and a defender in tow, who eventually stepped ahead of McCarthey and made contact with the ball. The ball then took a bounce back towards McCarthey, who then ripped off a shot from about five yards out that hit the back of the net, putting Sherando up 1-0.
The second half saw a more confident and aggressive Hawks team take to the field. They were holding their own against the Warriors and created several opportunities to take quality shots at the net. It was Skyline that was very visibly beating Sherando to the ball in the air and on the ground.
"We were playing with our heads up more," Dusing said. "We were getting rid of the ball a little bit quicker. We just did everything a little bit better and crisper."
"Skyline played a good game," Anderson said. " They really did a nice job today. I was impressed by their play."
The Hawks just couldn't crack a Warrior defense known for it's defiance, determination, and pure grit.
"We just gotta stay composed," Anderson said. "Try to possess a little bit more, and of course, hopefully, our finishing is really going to be key. We've been on a nice little bit of a roll. I told them that we are allowed a bad game here and there, so hopefully this was it today versus Saturday."
With the loss, the Hawks' rocky season comes to an end with arguably their very best effort of the season.
"It's nice to end it like this," Dusing said. "We got some big contributions from guys we didn't expect it from tonight.
"We didn't live up to our potential this year and that's all right. It's something to build off of for next year. We've had a lot of adversity to overcome. The guys that we've still got at this point of the season, I am extremely proud of tonight."
James Wood 2, Skyline 1
WINCHESTER -- The James Wood girls soccer team squeaked out a 2-1 victory over Skyline in the Northwestern District play-in game at Handley. Although James Wood dominated the field of play for the most part, they were only able to hit the back of the net twice. The Colonels outshot the Hawks 18-4.
The first goal for James Wood that hit the back of the net was in the 23rd minute of play, when junior Sarah Callaham connected with Catherine Woznak, who nailed the ball in from 10 yards out.
The Colonels followed up, with their second goal on the night in the 26th minute of play. The shot off the foot of junior Stephanie Roby was sent sailing into the net from 15 yards out.
It was the Hawks who responded in the 28th minute of play, when senior Jenna Merritt netted her team's only goal on the evening with a shot sent sailing past Colonels goalkeeper Kaleigh Fincham from 20 yards out. Fincham did come up with three solid saves for James Wood.
"A win is a win," Colonels coach Jim Carden said. "We've beat them twice 7-0 and I think mentally we just weren't ready to play."
The Colonels victory sends them into the Northwestern District tournament semifinals against regular season champion Handley on Saturday.
"We get to play Saturday and I think we'll play a lot better," Carden added. "We've lost to Handley twice this year 1-0. We've just got to put the ball in the back of the net."