HOUTZDALE — As if the rivalry between the Moshannon Valley and West Branch girls soccer team wasn’t enough fuel for Thursday’s regular-season finale for both teams, there was plenty of other things riding on the outcome at a cold and rainy CNB Bank Stadium.
Not only were bragging rights on the line, but also a spot in Monday’s ICC Championship opposite Everett as well as better positioning in the District 6 playoff bracket.
The Lady Warriors got a pair of second-half goals off the foot of Olivia Straka to rally past the Damsels 2-1 to sweep the season series and claim a bid in the ICC title game.
“People talk about Friday night lights, but tonight’s Thursday night lights ... this was one of the best high school soccer games I’ve ever seen played,” West Branch head coach Angie Fenush said. “These are two skilled teams. Mo Valley is always tough. They always have a tremendous amount of tact, every single player.
“You have Sarah McClelland, Summer Adams, Katie Tocimak, they’re stacked from front line to back line, and I think we are too. It’s just a battle and that’s what you like to see, especially this time of year. That was fun soccer.”
Moshannon Valley head coach Brian Wicker concurred.
“It was a fun game, a very fun game,” Wicker said. “It was fun to watch. It was intense. Everybody was moving the ball. It was so cold and rainy and windy and I was impressed with all the girls on both sides for how much they were moving.”
Both teams were moving the ball around well and challenging for possession, but neither could get much traction near the other’s net.
The Lady Warriors were able to get six shots on net, mostly long range, with Lauren Timblin leading the way with three, but Damsel keeper Tessa Switala was there to take care of all of them.
The Damsels were held to just two Adams shot over the first 40 minutes, but here second, which she placed on the ground just inside the far post got by a diving Sarah Betts to give the hosts a 1-0 lead at 31:09.
“We moved the ball, played it around and worked it though,” Wicker said. “They have a solid back line and we just had a hard time breaking through as much as we wanted to.”
The Damsels took the 1-0 lead into the break, despite being outshot 6-2.
“That’s the story of our season,” Fenush said. “We take a lot of shots, they just don’t go in. And the other team takes one or two and they go in. That’s something we have to work on.”
After surviving an early Mo Valley scoring chance right after the break where a Damsel shot the ball just wide of the net, West Branch was able to quickly get the equalizer.
The ball was worked into the center of the field near the 18 to Trinity Prestash, who took a few touches and slid the ball over to Straka, who buried it at 45:48 to make it 1-1.
“Straka has been working her butt off and Trin has been scoring a lot of goals, but to see the unselfishness in the passing was great,” Fenush said. “The buildup really started in the offensive half. There was a pass from the outside wing feeding it in and Trin took that ball and 90 times out of 100 she’s taking it to the net, but Straka called for it. She knew she had it. And Trin got it to her and Straka put it in the net.”
The duo worked together again a little over six minutes later to grab the lead.
Prestash danced through several Damsel players, taking the ball from midfield to the 18 when the last few Mo Valley defenders collapsed on her.
As they did, Prestash knocked the ball over to a wide-open Straka, who finished at 55:03.
“It was a defensive lapse and that’s kind of our M.O.,” Wicker said.
Prestash nearly gave West Branch a 2-goal advantage late in the half when she fired a shot off the crossbar. She had five shots in the second half and six in the game.
Mo Valley also had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Sarah McClelland shot. McClelland’s shot from deep in the left corner seemed to surprise Betts, who was able to bat it away toward the far post. No Damsel crashed on the play, however, and Betts alertly scooped up the ball and punted it away.
Betts made six saves in the game as the Lady Warriors improved to 14-3-1 on the season. West Branch has won 13 of its last 14 games.
“This is the first time the girls battled back from a deficit and won,” Fenush said. “Our losses we went down and stayed down. We talked at halftime that we can’t keep doing that. This is the time of year that you don’t have a lot of time to fix things. You have 40 minutes to fix it, and the girls came out ready to battle. That is huge for us. They wanted this so bad as a team, and they went out and did it.”
The Damsels have had a similar run to end the season.
Mo Valley started the year with a 1-6 record, but went on to win 9 of its final 11 games to end the regular season with a 10-8 mark.
“We started with a tough schedule. And we were missing three players the first three or four games,” Wicker said. “A lot of people were worried at the beginning of the season the way it started and I kept telling them ‘it’s the long run.’ It’s about being ready to play for districts.”
And Thursday’s game certainly gave each team a proper warmup as they both prepare for postseason play.
“We would rather have no other type of game than this going into the playoffs,” Fenush said.
The Lady Warriors are back in action Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Everett in the ICC Championship.
Both teams await the District 6 class A playoff bracket.
West Branch 2,
Moshannon Valley 1
1. Summer Adams, MV, (Tristin Timblin), 31:09.
2. Olivia Straka, WB, (Trinity Prestash), 45:48.
3. Straka, WB, (Prestash), 55:03.
Shots: West Branch 13, Moshannon Valley 7.
Saves: West Branch (Sarah Betts) 6, Moshannon Valley (Tessa Switala) 10.
Corner kicks: West Branch 3, Moshannon Valley 2.