West Branch wins ICC title|
Monday, October 22, 2012
By Rich Murawski Assistant Sports Editor
ALLPORT - When West Branch junior forward Christie Sabol scored 1:37 into the second overtime period Saturday in the Inter-County Conference title game, it looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted off the Lady Warrior soccer team.
The team has struggled with injuries all year and found themselves just a game above .500 heading into Saturday's title tilt with familiar foe McConnellsburg, which has been the Lady Warriors' opponent in three straight ICC Championships.
But Sabol's goal gave West Branch a 1-0 win and its second ICC title in a row, and sparked an emotional celebration in the Lady Spartan goal box, led by head coach Clark Dale.
"When Christie scored the goal, I darn near beat her back out to the 6," Dale said. "As soon as that went across the line, I was out there. I'm just so proud of them. They worked so hard for this, and I'm just proud of them.
"This has been a very tough season for us. We had starters out before two-a-days even started. We have the talent, but we just never had the full complement of girls until now. So we went through a real tough stretch. We're 10-8 now. These girls aren't used to being 10-8, so they got down on themselves."
Lady Warrior forwards Sabol and Liz White found themselves in a battle all day against a good McConnellsburg defense. The pair combined for just three shots over the first 90 minutes of play, but kept working together to find a way to break through the Lady Spartan defense.
"The defender pulled over to Liz, and she headed in and I just thought to myself, ‘you have to get it in,' " Sabol said.
The pair broke in 2-on-1 against a Lady Spartan defender, who chose to challenge White. White won the battle and headed the ball toward Sabol, who was breaking toward the McConnellsburg net to the left of keeper Sarrah Pollock.
One quick touch and Sabol fired toward the goal, placing the shot inside the far post just out of the reach of Pollock.
"I just hit it, hoping it would go in," Sabol said.
While White's Johnny-on-the-spot assist was monumental in the outcome, her grit and determination while battling for the ball throughout the contest was also a factor.
"Liz said, ‘this is the ICC Championship game, of course you're going to play physical,' She's right," Dale said.
"And she's always in the right place at the right time to score or she gets the ball to the person that can score. She knows her stuff out there."
Both teams found the sledding tough in the attacking third of the field as both defenses kept quality shots to a minimum - and each keeper was on her game.
The Lady Warriors fired 17 shots at Pollock, while McConnellsburg recorded 13 shots against Lady Warrior Javannah Klingler.
Pollock made 15 saves, perhaps none better than a laser off the foot of Brianna Coval, who found a crease on the right wing and surprised the Lady Spartan keeper with a hard shot with about 15 minutes left in regulation.
Pollock knocked the shot out of bounds, giving West Branch a corner kick.
Emilee Hoffower took the corner and nearly bent it into the net, but Pollock snatched the ball out of the air to keep things scoreless.
"She's an outstanding keeper," Dale said of Pollock. "But we have one as well. But (Pollock) was very good. We were taking good shots in the second half. But she was just a good keeper."
Hoffower led West Branch with six total shots, including five in a second half dominated by the Lady Warriors.
"She played midfield for us last year and she did an outstanding job," Dale said. "But I really wanted her to play on offense this year, and she's just been awesome."
The West Branch onslaught continued through regulation as the Lady Warriors held a 10-3 advantage in shots over the final 40 minutes of play.
That was quite the contrast from the first half, where McConnellsburg was the clear aggressor, playing much of the time in West Branch's end of the field.
"First half, I'm sure, there were jitters," Dale said. "We weren't being first to the ball. But in the second half, we told the girls we have to be first to everything. And we have to make better passes.
"We weren't making good passes. But we tightened that up in the second half. We started hitting our stride in the second half and started looking like the West Branch we know we can be."
While Dale says the Lady Warriors shored up the little things in the second half, Sabol felt the big reason for the shift in momentum was simply desire.
"We knew we wanted it," she said. "We've wanted it since the beginning of the season. We knew we were running out of time, so we had to get on the ball and go."
The Lady Warriors got rock-solid play from Klingler all game, but she was especially effective in the first half, keeping the Lady Spartans off the board despite several quality chances.
Klingler stopped a pair of long-range missiles off the foot of Nikki Fleming and made a point-blank save against Lady Spartan Sarra Kendall, who also rung a shot off the crossbar in the first half.
"There are so many times this year that Javannah has stepped up and made a huge play in goal that just turns the tide in games for us," Dale said. "I'm just so pleased with how she played.
"I'm pleased with how everybody played."
West Branch also got a lift from senior Taylor Eirich, who saw extended minutes in just her second game back on the pitch after suffering an injury in the first contest of the season.
Eirich registered two shots in the game and was key in controlling the midfield during the Lady Warriors' second-half revival.
"She's been out quite a while, so she's not quite back up to speed," Dale said. "But we can count on her to distribute well. She makes good passes. She might be able to only give us five minutes here and there, but while she's out there it's five quality minutes."
Another key to the West Branch success was its always consistent back four of Hailey Shimmel, Rebeka Golding, Kaylee Myers and Delanie Kolesar, who kept McConnellsburg's offensive attacks to a minimum in the second half of play.
"The defense has been there for us all year," Dale said. "Early in the season we hit a stretch where we were missing girls, so our midfield was a little weak, but we started getting girls back now and we've picked it up. This is the right time to be peaking."
Neither team recorded a shot in the first overtime period, but each fired one in the second.
Fleming was able to get a good look at the West Branch goal in the first minute of the second overtime, but Klingler denied her, setting up the winning counterattack for the Lady Warriors.
"This is pretty big," Sabol said. "We've wanted this the whole season. It's one of our top goals. We want to go to playoffs, but more importantly, we just want to be champions and work as a team and be together.
"I told everyone afterwards, ‘Christy's shot won the game, but 18 girls really won this game,' " Dale said. "It was just outstanding.
"But we worked all season for this. I'm just so proud of these guys. We needed this going into playoffs. I'm just glad it turned out the way it did."
McConnellsburg dipped to 11-6 with the loss.
West Branch is back in action today, finishing its regular season slate, hosting rival Philipsburg-Osceola.
The Lady Warriors then turn their attention to the District 6 Class A playoffs. West Branch tangles with Bald Eagle Area Wednesday evening at 7:30 at Altoona's Mansion Park.
West Branch 1, McConnellsburg 0, 2 OT
1. Christie Sabol, (Liz White), 91:37.
Shots: McConnellsburg 13, West Branch 17.
Saves: McConnellsburg (Sarrah Pollock) 15, West Branch (Javannah Klingler) 11.
Corner kicks: McConnellsburg 6, West Branch 3.