WHEELERSBURG — Prior to Thursday, 2014 was the last time the Minford Lady Falcons girls soccer program conquered the Southern Ohio Conference.
Behind a second half shutout and a career-high six goals from sophomore Lexi Conkel, the Lady Falcons (14-2) defeated Wheelersburg (8-5-2) in their regular season finale 7-2 to claim the program’s first outright league championship in eight years.
The path to winning the league began long before Thursday — or even the beginning of their season — head coach Shane Tieman and senior Mychal Cron said following the win.
“The SOC championship was won in the summer, in the open fields, training. They did a phenomenal job. Our mantra all year was always next up. Wheelersburg’s had that mental edge on a lot of teams and we were one of those as well. We told the girls if they play their game, we’re going to win a lot of games. It’s always special to beat Wheelersburg — to do it and to win the SOC outright, it’s a lot of work.”
“I think it’s absolutely amazing. We start preseason in February and this has been our main goal,” Cron said. “Us four seniors sat down with Coach Tieman in May and said ‘We want to win SOC, and that’s our first goal. It’s an amazing feeling knowing the work we put in.”
Minford’s four seniors include Cron, senior captain and the program’s all-time leading scorer Haley Knore, senior goal keeper Neveah Porter, and Sydney Mougey.
Knore, who battled through pain through the entirety of the contest, encouraged her team to keep fighting after Conkel’s two first half scores tied the game on both occasions.
“I think in the first half we started a little slow, little nervous. But we finally got our heads on straight and we got that first goal. Told them to keep going, keep pounding and we did. We got another one and another, one after another. I’m so proud of my team. I wouldn’t have been able to play that last 10 minutes, but I know they did it for me and I’m so proud of them.”
Wheelersburg junior Bella Miller scored each of the Lady Pirates two goals — at the 31:36 mark of the first half to give them a 1-0 lead, and with 9:29 to play in the half to put ‘Burg back in front 2-1.
Conkel’s second goal came with just :35 seconds remaining in the first half and was assisted by Cron, tying things just before halftime at 2-2.
It was a score that helped shift the message from Tieman to his Lady Falcons.
“That changed the whole tone of the half. I went from thinking that we’re down and we need to play with urgency, to it’s 0-0 no harm done,” Tieman said. “That was a huge momentum swing.”
Minford and Wheelersburg played to a draw for nearly the first 20 minutes of the first half, until a breakthrough finally came.
Conkel was fouled inside the box by a Lady Pirates defender, setting up a penalty kick opportunity which she sank past ‘Burg goalkeeper Amber Blevins. That score with 20:19 left gave the Lady Falcons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Not only did they not look back, the goals following came in a fury over the final 20 minutes.
The PK goal gave Conkel a hat trick — and in the final 13-plus minutes, she added three more scores to give her a career-high six scores.
Her final score with 5:33 to play was her 45th of the season and gave Minford a 6-2 lead.
“Early in the year, we saw that Haley was demanding a lot of attention from the defense. They were creating lanes and Lexi took advantage of them early. But over the course of the season, we’ve seen Lexi mature and say at times I’ve got to turn up my game and turn up the intensity,” Tieman said. “You started seeing her make those diagonal runs instead of vertically, really starting to execute our offense. When she executes, everyone behind her executes.”
“I just knew that we had to win the game. I couldn’t have done it without my team, putting the ball through — all I had to do was finish,” Conkel said. “I just really focused on making those shots in the corner and help add to our lead.”
Wheelersburg coach Todd Jarvis said he was happy with his team’s effort in the decision.
A tie or loss in Thursday’s contest did the Lady Pirates no good in terms of the SOC race, as the Lady Falcons’ 2-1 win in September at Minford made their second meeting a must-win.
“I felt as if we did a good job in the first half, got a goal early and we battled with them,” Jarvis said. “Told them at halftime we’re back to 0-0 where we started. We feel as if we did a lot of good things, a big change was the PK in the box — moments like that change momentum. But a tip of the hat to Minford, they’re conference champions and that’s what we all strive to do. We put forth as good an effort as we could tonight and just came up short.”
With 4:15 to play, Minford’s Lyla Napier scored the game’s final goal to put the Lady Falcons ahead by the game’s final margin.
Cron assisted on two of Conkel’s goals, as did Ava Cronin. Maggie Miller assisted on Conkel’s goal with 8:17 to play in the game that put Minford ahead 5-2.
Porter and Minford’s defense held the Lady Pirates scoreless in the second half. She recorded seven saves in the win, while Blevins had six saves for ‘Burg.
Minford, the No. 2-seed in the Division III Southeast District tournament, will host Peebles on Wednesday in a sectional final.
Wheelersburg, the No. 7-seed, will host Zane Trace in their own sectional final.
If both teams win their sectional, they’ll meet for the third time this season on Monday, Oct. 24 with a spot in the district final on the line.
“We don’t have too much time. We take the weekend to enjoy it and heal up, then Monday we hit practice hard,” Tieman said. “It’ll be a good hard practice, then we play Peebles Wednesday. It’s next game up and that’s what we have to focus on.”
“We’ll continue to work. Told the girls that this loss doesn’t define their season,” Jarvis said. “We refocus for next week with Zane Trace, and chances are it’ll be us and Minford again. We’ll see what happens. Extremely proud of my girls.”
Minford 2 5 — 7
Wheelersburg 2 0 — 2
W — Bella Miller, unassisted, 31:36
M — Lexi Conkel, Assisted by Ava Cronin
W — Bella Miller, unassisted, 9:29
M — Lexi Conkel, assisted by Mychal Cron, :35
M — Lexi Conkel, PK, 20:19
M — Lexi Conkel, assisted by Mychal Cron, 13:01
M — Lexi Conkel, assisted by Maggie Miller, 8:17
M — Lexi Conkel, assisted by Ava Cronin, 5:33
M — Lyla Napier, unassisted, 4:15
Minford’s Nevaeh Porter 7 saves
Burg’s Amber Blevins 6 saves
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved