ROSEMOUNT — This time, the Indians —at least early as they had hoped —found the net.
The Clay Panthers, meanwhile, are struggling to score at promptly the worst time.
On Thursday, in a Southern Ohio Conference Division I return tilt from the two teams’ 1-1 tie earlier this season, visiting Valley tallied three first-half goals and racked up 23 total shots —en route to blanking Clay 3-0 for its second win, on the road and on natural grass, in three days.
On Tuesday, the Indians won at South Webster with another three-goal difference at 4-1 —as both victories put them two wins clear of an even .500 at 7-5-2.
Thursday’s SOC I ‘W’ concludes Valley’s league slate at 2-2-2, as Ironton St. Joseph —at 5-0-1 — already wrapped up the outright division championship.
However, the Indians —which forged the previous tie against the Panthers by scoring the equalizing goal with only a minute and 27 seconds remaining — needed at least a half in which they converted on their multiple opportunities.
According to Valley coach Andy Johnson, the Indians’ performance on Thursday was “good not great”, but “a win is a win, and we’re happy with that”.
“We got an early goal and a good spurt there where we scored twice. We’re still not moving the ball like we should and we still have a few things to clean up to get ready for the tournament. In the second half, we tried to have our players move the ball a little better,” said the coach.
Once again against the Panthers, the Indians dominated possession — playing the majority of the match in their offensive half and even third.
They took 11 first-half shots and a dozen more in the second, but this time didn’t have to wait until the final minute-and-a-half to light up the scoreboard.
Valley scored its opening goal just five-and-a-half minutes in, then got its other two markers within two minutes of each other —with seven-and-a-half and five-and-a-half minutes left.
As Clay is a heavily defensive-oriented team, and with senior Shaden Malone minding the net, the Indians’ early marker — by Lucie Ashkettle off a Davey Petry assist — made the pushing Panthers fall back into a larger defensive posture.
“Getting that early goal helped us, and it takes some of the pressure off and lets us play our game a little more. We told them (Indians) that we needed to score early and hopefully pull them out of as much defensive alignment as we can,” said Johnson.
“We came out with men up top trying to score. We tried to push, but when they score early like that, it just means that we have to retreat and play more defense,” said Clay coach Doug Ledingham. “Valley is a great program and they have a great coach (Johnson) and fantastic players.”
And, the Indians have some girl power.
Ashkettle is a sophomore wing, and despite being a female on a primarily male team, isn’t at all afraid of bodying up against the physically bigger boys.
She got free on her opposite side, took a Petry pass, and beat Malone who charged up in the goalbox into the lower-left 90.
Both coaches had high praise for Ashkettle.
“Lucie is outstanding. I think she probably is the best female player in the area. She does a great job for us. Everybody looks at her as just a teammate, and she is fantastic on the field,” said Johnson.
“You have to mark Lucie at all times,” said Ledingham. “When she is not shooting, she is facilitating and spreading the ball. She is just a great player.”
With Ashkettle involved in the offense, she provides another Indian scoring threat — as junior forward Austin Sommers is often Valley’s go-to goal-scorer.
The 1-0 lead held up for exactly 27 minutes, before a Panther fouled Sommers inside the goalbox.
Sommers scored on the subsequent penalty kick, and the Indians stunned the Panthers again only two minutes later.
The sequence started with a corner kick, as ultimately Ashkettle assisted on the goal by J.R. Holbrook — making it 3-0.
In Clay’s only other home loss this season, against Ironton St. Joseph, the Panthers also gave up three first-half goals.
But despite not allowing any other Indian points for the final 45 minutes and 33 seconds, Clay couldn’t convert on any of its increased opportunities.
Valley senior goalkeeper Wesley Holbrook had six saves, including a key pair in a five-minute first-half span —between the 22nd minute and the 27th minute with the score still 1-0.
“The boys fought hard through the second half and we tried to change some things, but our offense is just not clicking right now,” said Ledingham. “We’re not scoring goals at all.”
In fact, the Panthers have been shut out in five of their past six matches —the only exception being a 3-3 tie against Peebles within the past nine days.
Clay fell to 4-7-3 with the loss, and its non-league encounters against Chesapeake and Westfall which were cancelled earlier in the season will not be rescheduled.
Malone made multiple saves on Thursday, and almost reached the 20-stop mark.
But he is also the team’s top goal-scorer, as fellow senior keeper Noah Wright was out of action recently with an injury.
Ledingham said injuries are taking their toll on the Panthers —on both ends of the pitch.
“It’s really tough,” he said. “The injuries are killing us right now. We’re hoping we get a favorable draw in the sectional and a week off to get some starters back. I appreciate kids fighting hard and fighting to the end, and Valley was just too much for us today.”
While the Panthers play next in the Division III sectional tournament, the Indians host Minford on Tuesday in the regular-season finale.
Another non-league tilt against another SOC II club, Northwest, will not be rescheduled after it was cancelled in early September.
Johnson is hoping his charges channel what they’ve done in October to date, and can “make a good tournament run”.
“Hopefully, we can get some more confidence and be able to make a run in the tournament. We have the ability, but we have to put everything together,” he said. “We’re really close, so I am hoping here in the next week, we get everything ironed out.”
* * *
Valley 3 0 —3
Clay 0 0 —0
V — Lucie Ashkettle (Davey Petry assist), 34:33, 1st (1-0 V)
V —Austin Sommers (penalty kick), 7:33, 1st (2-0 V)
V — J.R. Holbrook (Lucie Ashkettle assist), 5:33, 1st (3-0 V)
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