MINFORD — Indeed, once might be an accident, but the second time tends to be a trend.
That’s because, for their second consecutive soccer sectional championship match, the Minford Lady Falcons found the net late —and dramatically dashed the district dreams of an Ohio Valley Conference opponent.
The second such instance occurred on Wednesday inside the Falcons’ Nest at Minford High School, as Lexi Conkel’s free direct kick —with a mere six minutes and 39 seconds remaining — lifted the Lady Falcons past the Fairland Dragons 1-0 in a Division III final.
That’s correct, as it took quite a late — but well-executed — direct free kick by the freshman Conkel to send seventh-seeded Minford into the district semifinals for the second straight season, and for the third time since 2017.
Last season, Haley Knore — only three minutes into the sudden-death initial overtime period at Rock Hill — had the game’s only goal for that 1-0 win —but more importantly a sectional championship.
This time, on the Lady Falcons’ second-to-last shot on goal of a baker’s dozen (13) against Fairland senior goalkeeper Jessica King, Conkel’s kick looked good directly down the center —and sailed just high enough over the tall King’s outstretched fingertips.
It was Conkel’s fifth and final of a team-high five shots on goal, and it squeezed perfectly underneath the crossbar.
“There was a lot of contact on Lexi at the top of the box, just outside of the 18. It was center of the goal, and anytime like that, we’re yelling for 10 yards. We got their line back, but that close, we instruct our players especially Lexi to take the shot. Lexi was hitting high all day and wide all day, but she focused, hit high enough and got it over an excellent goalie right into the goal,” said Minford coach Shane Tieman. “Clutch shot by Lexi, and great effort on her part.”
With that, the Lady Falcons raised their record to 12-4-1 —and earned a date at second-seeded Eastern Brown for Monday’s Division III district semi.
It was almost a matchup that wasn’t, as Minford —per Tieman —played “disjointed” on Wednesday, as the Lady Falcons have been playing without injured midfielder/forward Mychal Cron, and faced a dramatically different Dragons’ squad.
How different you ask?
Minford mauled 10th-seeded Fairland for a 9-1 rout a month ago.
“Hats off to the Lady Dragons. We beat them 9-1 in the regular season, bad field conditions and all, but I knew by looking at their other scores, that was an outlier for them. I knew they were going to give us a lot, and I kept telling the girls that they were going to be a different team and it was going to be a tough game,” said Tieman. “Unfortunately, it was tougher than what I wanted it to be.”
Ava Cronin had four shots on goals and Lyla Napier another two, as King stopped a dozen shots — but couldn’t quite catch Conkel’s.
And, luckily for the Lady Falcons, that was all they needed for the win.
“We were playing a lot of kickball, not playing our offense real well. That first half was nothing but kickball. That’s not what we teach out here, because we teach possession-style soccer. But a win is a win, and somebody still has to step up,” said Tieman.
One individual which did just that was Minford goalkeeper Nevaeh Porter, whose clean-sheet shutout included a half-dozen saves —perhaps none bigger than with 21 minutes and 21 seconds remaining, when she took two steps and actually appeared to make the kick-away save with her feet instead of her hands.
“Nevaeh is a gamer and steps up big every match. One of the best goalies we have in our conference,” said Tieman. “She owns that box.”
Now, as young Minford moves on, the competition is much more difficult —as Eastern Brown is the defending Southeast District Division III runner-up.
First touch on Monday at Eastern Brown, and with the Lady Warriors, is set for 5 p.m.
“To get a sectional championship in an ugly way, that tells you the caliber of players and competitiveness we have. That just sets the precedent for this group that they need to keep moving forward,” said Tieman. “Our season lasts as long as we want it to.”
* * *
Fairland 0 0 — 0
Minford 0 1 — 1
M — Lexi Conkel (direct free kick), 6;39, 2nd (1-0 M)
SHOTS ON GOAL — Fairland 6, Minford 13
SAVES — Fairland 12 (Jessica King), Minford 6 (Nevaeh Porter)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved