MINFORD — The last time the Minford Lady Falcons figured out their mystery that is the nemesis Wheelersburg Lady Pirates, Shane Tieman was in his initial season as Minford’s head coach.
That was in 2014, when the Lady Falcons last captured the coveted Southern Ohio Conference girls soccer championship.
But Wheelersburg has been, in Tieman’s terms, “a mental hurdle” —as the Lady Pirates are the defending conference champions, plus having won five consecutive SOC titles from 2015 thru 2019.
However, all hurdles have to get cleared at some point —and the fast, offensive-oriented, and still undefeated and untied Lady Falcons finally cleared theirs with Wheelersburg on Tuesday night.
That’s because, following a scoreless opening half and amid a hotly-contested and physically intense tilt all throughout, the Lady Falcons found the net twice in a span of five minutes and three seconds —and fended off the hard-charging Lady Pirates for a 2-1 triumph inside an amped-up Falcons’ Nest at Minford.
That’s correct, although the days are shorter, the Lady Falcons’ memories are indeed long —as it had been four days shy of an even 2,900 when Wheelersburg last lost to the Lady Falcons.
The two tied in the regular-season finale last year at Minford, but Wheelersburg won the championship over the Lady Falcons by half-a-game — as Ironton St. Joseph and West sported girls teams last season, but not this year.
With the win, Minford remains undefeated and untied at 7-0-0, and is now 3-0-0 in the SOC —with Wheelersburg, Waverly and Northwest the only other league clubs for this fall.
“We want to beat Wheelersburg every time we play them, just as much as they want to beat us every time. They’ve been a mental hurdle for us, beating us so many years in a row,” said Tieman. “It’s a thrill as a coach obviously to win, but also to see them (Lady Falcons) executing what we’ve practiced. Just an overall really good team effort. We executed a tactical gameplan, and we kept their athletes in check as much as possible as it is to keep them all in check. You can’t leave any one of them open anywhere within 40 yards of the goal. Luckily, we were able to close enough quickly.”
The Lady Pirates fell to an even 3-3-0 (2-1-0 SOC) against a highly-challenging schedule so far —as all three losses have come on the road, and all by 2-1 counts.
The others are at Unioto in the season opener, and at fellow non-league North Adams this past Saturday —following a 10-day Lady Pirate layoff.
For the Lady Pirates, and head coach Todd Jarvis, their effort is absolutely there —but their consistency, unfortunately for them, hasn’t been.
“Hats off to Minford, they are a good group with a high-potent offense. We have nothing to hang our heads about, and I thought we did a lot of good things, but we’re still struggling in some areas, trying to get all our pieces to function with some consistency. Nobody wants to lose, but these big matches are all about little things and opportunities,” said Jarvis. “I think the final score reflects that. Your opportunities are few and it’s hard to create them against good teams like Minford.”
The Lady Falcons, fresh off that incredible 7-6 comeback victory over non-league Rock Hill last Thursday night, found a way to solve that Wheelersburg gameplan —at least for five second-half minutes anyway.
“Wheelersburg has had the best gameplan against us of any team we’ve played,” said Tieman.
However, the Lady Pirates couldn’t account for another excellent Lady Falcon corner kick, as Mychal Cron’s kick sailed right to the head of Lexi Conkel —which the well-executed header beat ‘Burg goalkeeper Amber Blevins beyond an upper-90.
Minford has scored multiple goals this season off Cron corner kicks, and it did the job again on Tuesday night.
This one was with 27 minutes and 34 seconds remaining.
“Our corner kicks this year have just been off the charts. We have some heading capability, and it’s aggressiveness that we have that we’re going to get to the ball no matter what,” raved Tieman. “We have multiple people who are willing to put it all on the line to get that ball in the goal. Another good job on corner kicks.”
But, equally good job by Wheelersburg to get the equalizer —only 54 seconds later.
Krista Williams’ shot at Minford goalkeeper Nevaeh Porter was blocked, but rebounded right to Bella Miller, who made the goal for the 1-1 tie.
However, the Lady Falcons’ fury was good for one more important goal —with 22-and-a-half minutes left to play.
Adjusting from the corner, Lyla Napier cut inside, crossed the ball from right to left to Knore near the center —and Knore knocked it in for her 18th goal of the season, and her 98th of her decorated Minford career.
With two goals in the epic win over Rock Hill, Knore became the program’s leader in career goals scored.
Truth be told, the Lady Pirates hard to work extremely hard defensively against the Lady Falcons’ explosive offense —and they did.
But, corner kicks — and Knore goals — are indeed Minford’s specialty.
“Our defense had to work extremely hard, but that was our plan coming in here. With Haley (Knore) and Lexi (Conkel), they are a force to be reckoned with and we know that. We did what we could do to slow them down and we were successful at that. But you can’t let the ball drop at Haley’s feet, because she will turn around and knock it in. That’s what she did for their second goal,” explained Jarvis. “I could see it from my perspective, and only thing I said on the sideline was ‘Oh no’. I knew what was coming to happen.”
Both defenses were up to the challenge — as Minford outshot Wheelersburg 18-8, including 12-5 on goal, with Blevins making 10 saves.
So while the Lady Falcons didn’t light up the scoreboard this time, they didn’t need to —not when Porter played well in net, and the 10 gals in front of her worked in sync.
“Just a great effort by our defense. They are the unsung heroes,” said Tieman. “Nevaeh Porter had to work the whole game this game, she came off her line a lot more and was a lot more aggressive back there. She anticipated balls coming back. We know Wheelersburg likes those through-balls over the top, and they have the athletes to do it, but she was up there to get the ball before they could get a foot on it. Our defense stayed true to our philosophy of team defense. They didn’t chase, they played their zonal defense where somebody has the ball, somebody covers, somebody has the balance on the backside, and our midfield did a better job of getting back to assist on the second wave of their offense.”
Perhaps Wheelersburg’s best chances at a goal were early in the first half —when Jocelyn Tilley clanged one off the right post, then the ricochet bounced to Miller, who in front of the net nailed the top left post.
Indeed, soccer is a game of inches, as the 17 combined shots on goal with 14 combined saves and three total goals were in fact just that — at least to the eyes of observers inside the full Falcons’ Nest.
The two will rematch in the regular-season finale at Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg — in a month from now for likely the SOC championship…again.
“We will see them a month from now, and that’s the beauty of the SOC,” said Jarvis. “We’re going to work to be ready for them.”
“We may see Wheelersburg two more times —at their place and possibly in the tournament. That’s a huge game at their place, possibly for the league (championship) and it’s a huge momentum game going into the postseason,” said Tieman. “They will play hard against us, we will play hard against them, and we’ll just see who has more goals at the end.”
That’s the end, though, but for now, the Lady Falcons finally solved their Lady Pirate mystery.
Both squads return to non-league action on Thursday —with Minford hosting Division I Lancaster at 5:30 p.m., and with Wheelersburg traveling to Rock Hill for a 6 p.m. first touch.
* * *
Wheelersburg 0 1— 1
Minford 0 2 —2
M —Lexi Conkel (Mychal Cron assist), 27:34, 2nd (1-0 M)
W — Bella Miller (unassisted), 26:40, 2nd (1-1 tie)
M — Haley Knore (Lyla Napier assist), 22:31, 2nd (2-1 M)
SHOTS — Wheelersburg 8 (5 on goal), Minford 18 (12 on goal)
SAVES —Wheelersburg 10 (Amber Blevins), Minford 4 (Nevaeh Porter)
CORNER KICKS — Wheelersburg 1, Minford 3
YELLOW CARDS — Haley Knore, Minford, 17:00, 1st; Grace Charles, Wheelersburg, 17:26, 2nd; Haleigh Collier, Wheelersburg, 13:44, 2nd
RED CARDS — none