WAVERLY — If the Waverly Lady Tigers were going to clinch at least a share of the Southern Ohio Conference girls soccer championship, Wheelersburg wasn’t about to let it be at its expense.
Instead, the Lady Pirates pressed the issue on Thursday at Waverly’s Raidiger Field —and forced the talented, highly-touted and league-leading Tigers to equalize on three goals, including the final with only four minutes and 18 seconds remaining.
The end result was a 3-3 tie, as underdog Wheelersburg — with just two seniors on its roster —prevented Waverly from clinching an SOC share on its own turf.
The Pirates and Tigers split the SOC last season, with each club collecting a victory on the other’s home pitch.
After Waverly’s 5-1 win at Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg exactly a month ago, and after the Tigers’ schedule and coronavirus circumstances saw them last play two weeks back, it was an ideal situation for the young Lady Pirates to perhaps sneak into Waverly and win.
And, they almost did.
In fact, Wheelersburg is now 5-0-1 against the Tigers at Raidiger Field — with winning three Division III district championships there too.
“We worked a plan and we nearly pulled it off. I am very proud of the way we played. We took as much advantage of the situation as we could and had some girls really step up and play better,” said Wheelersburg coach Todd Jarvis. “Our loss (against Waverly) at home was playing back-to-back and we were fresh-legged coming up here, but Waverly is a really talented group and possesses the ball well. But we tried to limit opportunities and minimize the good opportunities for them. I think we accomplished that. They continued to work hard, but our ladies did too, and it was a great SOC soccer match here.”
Laney Eller, the standout senior striker, amassed all three Wheelersburg goals —as each Eller marker made it a one-goal lead, including at 3-2 with 17:14 to play.
However, the Tigers —in their sixth and so far best season in program history —had one of the best ties you will ever see.
With less than four-and-a-half minutes remaining, Loren Moran muscled a shot that clanged off the crossbar, but bounced back right to fellow senior Amelia Willis.
Willis was smack dab right in front of the net —and with a one-timer point-blanker with her right foot — found the upper-right 90 beyond Brynley Preston.
“They had possessed and possessed and they worked us into the ground. We had a situation where we could have sat down and defended a little better on the outside, but we reached and made a mistake. They were able to lead the ball across the middle,” said Jarvis. “I could see from my position when the ball left her (Willis) foot that it was a goal. I could see the ball in the back of the net before it went into the net.”
Both teams scrambled for the game-winning point in the final four-plus minutes, but the Tigers couldn’t convert one of their eight corner kicks —and Preston posted her final of 18 saves with a minute and 25 seconds left.
In the final 30 seconds, Eller amounted another run and crossed a pass from right to left towards the center for Grace Charles, but Charles got tangled up with a Waverly defender in front of the goal —and the ball got kicked out of bounds as the final few seconds ticked away.
Still, while ties aren’t as good as a win, they are light years better than a loss — and Wheelersburg wasn’t going to let the Tigers take it to it again.
Waverly, which took advantage of the Lady Pirates playing on back-to-back days before the first meeting, went off for three second-half goals en route to the 5-1 runaway.
This time — despite the Tigers taking 21 shots, controlling most of the possession, limiting the guests to just two corner kicks, and playing most of the match in the Pirates’ defensive half — Wheelersburg made good on its seven shots, including Eller’s hat trick.
The Lady Pirates, on the other end, then held strong with their back line —as Preston made stop after stop for a total of 18.
Whether rockets sailed right to her, or she had to go to her knees and dive, the junior goalkeeper kept the Tigers out of the net for the most part.
“Brynley (Preston) played just a spectacular game in goal,” said Jarvis. “She didn’t get rattled and she has done just an exceptional job for us. Defensively, I’m proud of all of the ladies in the back. And we’re still missing a player or two with some quarantine.”
Judging by Thursday’s performance, you would never know.
Eller, off a Charles assist on a breakaway, got Wheelersburg on the board a mere three minutes and 22 seconds in.
Zoiee Smith, the Tigers’ senior goal-scoring machine, then immediately answered just two minutes later — as Alexis Murphy made the assist.
An Eller unassisted marker, exactly 16 minutes and 50 seconds later, then made it 2-1 — before Kylie Smith scored with 24-and-a-half minutes left to play for the contest’s second tie.
But that stalemate too was rather short-lived, as another Eller unassisted goal —on another breakaway with Waverly defenders behind her and Tiger keeper Lydia Brown pulled up in the goalbox —gave the Lady Pirates a 3-2 edge.
That advantage stood for 13 minutes, before Willis wound up with the third tying goal — and ultimately the 3-3 draw.
It was both teams’ first tie, as Wheelersburg is now 9-3-1 —and 5-2-1 in the league.
Besides the home loss to the Tigers, the Lady Pirates suffered a critical 3-2 home setback against Ironton St. Joseph.
Waverly, with an 8-1-1 tally and a 6-0-1 record in the SOC, will win that championship share with another victory.
Jarvis has known what kind of team the Division II Tigers have had all along.
“The SOC is in their (Tigers) hands and they are a senior-laden team and we knew that at the beginning of the season. But we gave them all they wanted tonight,” he said. “We’re young and inexperienced, and learning to beat the ball in the back of the net is a skill. But I am proud of what we’ve done and where we’re at, and we’re just going to continue to move forward.”
That moving forward includes their next match on Tuesday —against visiting Northwest.
It’s one of three remaining regular-season affairs prior to the Division III postseason.
“We’re going to continue to play hard and work hard, and we have three more home games then we look forward to the tournament,” said Jarvis. “The Lady Pirates aren’t even close to being done.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 2 1 —3
Waverly 1 2 —3
Burg — Laney Eller (Grace Charles assist), 36:38, 1st (1-0 Burg)
Wave — Zoiee Smith (Alexis Murphy assist), 34:33, 1st (1-1 tie)
Burg — Laney Eller (unassisted), 17:43, 1st (2-1 Burg)
Wave — Kylie Smith (unassisted), 24:31, 2nd (2-2 tie)
Burg — Laney Eller (unassisted), 17:14, 2nd (3-2 Burg)
Wave —Amelia Willis (unassisted), 4:18, 2nd (3-3 tie)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved