STEUBENVILLE - Scoring early in any type of contest is important for a team. On the flip-side, when a team allows any scoring early it puts that team in chase mode.
No. 4 seed St. Clairsville found itself in the latter Tuesday night as top-seeded Minerva scored two goals in the first four minutes of the game and ran away to a 4-1 victory in Division II eastern district tournament semifinal action on the chill-filled Reno Field turf at Harding Stadium.
"They're an opportunistic team," St. Clairsville head coach Gary Watt said of the Lions (13-5). "They came out and punched us right in the mouth a couple of times."
The first came 3:35 into the contest when Tyler Stewart tickled the twine off a side throw-in. It was the first shot of the game by either team and was assisted on by Phillip Blackburn.
Before the Red Devils could re-group, Minerva applied pressure again. When St. Clairsville couldn't clear the ball out of harms way, Shem Haas sent a pass from the left side of the crease to a well-positioned Stewart on the right doorstep and he easily tapped the ball into the cage behind a helpless St. Clairsville keeper Izaac Wiley for a 2-0 advantage in the fourth minute.
St. Clairsville had plenty of opportunities, but couldn't get the ball past Justin Schotts, Minerva's junior goalkeeper.
Schotts denied Aaron Perkins with a leaping two-handed grab on a direct kick with high-scoring Zach Oliver in place for the rebound in the 11th minute.
Oliver's blast from 20 yards out on the left wing just sailed past the top right corner of the cage four minutes later. Oliver also was thwarted on a header off a Perkins' kick late in the first half when Schotts made another leaping two-handed save and held on.
"We had some chances," Watt recalled. "We just couldn't finish."
Minerva, for all intents and purposes, put the game away with two goals in a 28-second span early in the second half to up the margin to 4-0.
Wiley made an outstanding diving deflection on a point-blank shot by Haas, but there no teammate there to clear the ball and Stewart completed his natural hat trick with an easy one-timer into the net.
Blackburn's drive from 30 yards out sizzled by a stunned Wiley.
"They sucked the wind out of us with those two goals," Watt admitted. "But the kids kept battling. They never gave up."
St. Clairsville avoided the shutout when Oliver netted his 23rd goal of the season. He left-footed the ball from the left wing along the carpet and into the bottom right corner past a diving Schotts. Jordan Vincent logged the assist.
Wiley, who along with five other teammates concluded their Red Devil careers, was credited with 19 saves - many of the highlight variety - on 23 shots.
"Izaac played very well," Watt noted. "He did that all season ... all of his career."
Schotts had seven saves on eight shots.
Division II District Semifinal
(at Harding Stadium, Steubenville)
Minerva 4, St. Clairsville 1
STC-Goal by: Oliver. Assist by: Vincent; Goalkeeper: Wiley (23 shots, 19 saves)
M-Goals by: Stewart 3, Blackburn; Assists by: Haas 2, Blackburn; Goalkeeper: Schotts (8 shots, 7 saves)
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