Streak busters

When the OVAC Cup girls’ soccer pairings were announced, St. Clairsville head coach Scott Dutton liked his team’s chances.

The Red Devils were seeded seventh out of eight teams and drew unbeaten, and unchallenged, Wheeling Central in a quarterfinal matchup.

Dutton also knew that his squad would have to play a near-perfect game against the No. 2 seeded Maroon Knights, and they did just that.

Scoring three goals in the first 11:06 of the contest, the underdog Red Devils (9-5) cruised to a 4-0 whitewashing of the designated home team Thursday night on the soggy Red Devil Stadium turf.

“When you are going up against a team that is 12-0, you have to bring your ‘A’ game and the girls knew it,” Dutton professed. “We knew we would have to have a big offensive game, take some chances on defense and we did, and it worked out for us.”

With the much-cherished triumph, St. Clairsville advances to semifinal action Saturday at 9 a.m. against No. 6 Brooke, which upended No. 3 Wheeling Park, 1-0, in Thursday’s nightcap. That contest will be played at Wheeling Island Stadium.

The Red Devils never let the Maroon Knights get settled in as Carlee Gillespie ran down a perfect direct kick from Haylee Skukan. The sure-footed junior sprinted past a pair of Wheeling Central defenders and controlled the ball as she broke to her right. She sent a laser to the left side of the net that goalkeeper Regan Blaha had no chance on, and it was 1-0 just 3:13 in.

Just over four minutes later, Taryn Barr unleashed a rocket along the turf that Blaha initially fielded. However, the wet ball slipped between her fingertips and across the goalline, making it 2-0.

“Those were big,” Dutton said of the two early goals. “If you are going into a game 12-0, you have to have a lot of confidence. If you get scored on within the first couple minutes, it has to be an eye-opener for you.”

St. Clairsville wasn’t finished, however, as Madison Keenan was in the right place at the right time. The Red Devils were threatening deep in Wheeling Central territory when Barr fired a shot that Blaha blocked, but the clearing shot ricocheted off of Keenan and into the twine for a 3-0 reading.

Gillespie concluded the scoring in the 32nd minute when she controlled the ball at point-blank range before one-timing it into the cage. Eberle Ferrell notched the assist. It was Gillespie’s team-leading 19th net-finder.

All the while, St. Clairsville goalkeeper Brianna Sowers was doing her best Hope Solo imitation against a team that was averaging seven goals per contest. The junior was very active between the pipes, but it was her play in front of the net that drew rave reviews from both head coaches.

“Brianna made a big difference,” Dutton lauded. “She comes out of the net and makes a lot of saves. Sometimes she is more of a defender than a goalkeeper. Outstanding job by her.”

Sowers made seven saves, with only two coming after the halftime break against the Maroon Knights who had given up only seven goals all season. She stopped three breakaways, one of which came about 30 yards in front of her net.

“Their goalie did a great job and our passes were soft enough to get the touches to get by her,” Wheeling Central head coach David Cross noted. “We suggested (kicking it over her) but it just didn’t happen.”

The Maroon Knights lost standout Bailey Clark midway through the first half when she was forced to leave the game with a medical condition. She didn’t return, but Cross failed to use that as an excuse.

“They (St. Clairsville) played very well,” he said.

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