FRONT ROYAL – Warren County junior Isabella Unrath said Wednesday’s home game against Strasburg validated the progress the Wildcats’ girls soccer team feels its been making early this season.

The Wildcats’ 4-1 win, their first of the season, certainly was a stark improvement over the first meeting against the Rams just five days earlier. Strasburg won that initial meeting 4-0 on their home field March 30, the third straight shutout loss for Warren County to start the season, but it was the Wildcats who broke out in the rematch behind Unrath’s hat trick.

“We definitely really needed it,” Unrath said after the match. “I feel like at the beginning we were all more, I guess, timid, and coming off of last season it was a little rough. I think we’ve been growing more as a team and I feel like after each game our confidence has gone up a little bit more just because I feel like we’re all focusing on the main points we’ve been trying to achieve each game. Today was a really good one for us because I feel like we achieved a lot of things we’ve been focusing on in practice.”

Unrath, who didn’t play in last week’s match against Strasburg due to an ankle injury, put Warren County (1-3) on the board for the first time all season with her goal in the 19th minute on Wednesday night. The goal opened the floodgates for a Wildcat offense that had gone 259 minutes without scoring to that point, and Warren County went into halftime leading 3-0, quite the difference from the 2-0 halftime hole the Wildcats found themselves in at Strasburg in the first meeting.

“Honestly, I think it was everyone’s mentality,” Wildcats senior goalkeeper Kayleigh Hite said of the difference in the two matches. “Sometimes we like to get comfortable and then when we lose we just get real angry and we come out here to beat whoever we’re gonna play again. I think that’s what happened tonight. I think we weren’t gonna let it happen again.”

Unrath’s first goal on Wednesday night proved to be the turning point, as Strasburg had up to that point dominated possession and took the first nine shots of the contest.

Moments after Rams junior Hannah Peer saw her shot attempt go wide of the goal, Warren County was racing back the other way as Unrath chased down a long ball from teammate Kaley Foulks. Unrath fired a shot across the penalty box at the end of the breakaway that gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead and sent the Rams (2-3-1) reeling.

“That’s classic Strasburg Rams for you,” Rams head coach Kayla Allen, who’s tasked with instilling a winning culture in a Strasburg program unaccustomed to piling up victories, said with a laugh, “and that’s one of the things that we’ve been working on as far as one goal doesn’t make a game, but tonight we allowed it to. Yeah, we were running the show in the beginning and it was the pretty Strasburg soccer that we’ve become, but then they scored that goal on a quick counterattack and it was a beauty of a goal. We were like, ‘oh,’ and we got shook and we couldn’t quite get ourselves back together in that first half.”

Unrath put the Wildcats up 2-0 eight minutes later when she fired a laser from the top right corner of the 18 that sailed past Strasburg keeper Kenley Smith into the upper-left corner of the net.

“I saw the opening. I looked up, saw the keeper was a little caught off her guard and I took a chance,” Unrath said. “Every shot you don’t take is not a goal, so I figured I’d just let it rip.”

Foulks added Warren County’s third goal of the first half in stoppage time after Jessica Frey’s long free kick found Foulks running down the middle of the field, and Unrath’s third goal on yet another one-on-one opportunity with the keeper capped the night’s scoring with six minutes to play.

While the Wildcats enjoyed a breakout offensive performance, Hite, who earned her first career win as a high school goalkeeper, repeatedly thwarted Strasburg’s own attempts to find the back of the net and finished with 10 saves.

Hite made three of those saves during a flurry of four Strasburg shot attempts that came in rapid succession 13 minutes into the contest, including a diving stop in the middle of that trio of saves. She also punched Morgan Bible’s shot away with her right hand after Peer gave Bible a nice feed to set up a one-on-one look, preserving Warren County’s 2-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.

Strasburg took 13 shots in the first half and had nothing to show for it.

“I think I just had the right mentality today. I always give 100 percent but … I had that little bit of a fire,” Hite said.

“You just have to stay alert in those high-pressure situations. It’s really stressful but the only thing I’m thinking about is the ball. That’s the only thing I can focus on at that time, and if my brain is anywhere else, it’s going in. I think that’s what happens in those situations, I’m just like ‘I need that out, I need that out.’”

The lone goal Hite allowed in the win came after she made a leaping save on Morgan Mrizek’s shot attempt late in the second half. Peer was there to poke the ball into the net off the rebound to cut the deficit to 3-1 with 11 minutes to play.

“Their goalie had a heck of a game tonight,” said Allen, whose team outshot Warren County 22-13 in the loss. “We had opportunities, we just didn’t finish. The scoreline doesn’t necessarily reflect how the game was played overall. But they earned every one of those goals. We just weren’t entirely there mentally for the whole game.”

– Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com