Park blanks St. C. girls behind strong 2nd half

WHEELING — As sectionals are set to begin next week on both sides of the river, Wheeling Park and St. Clairsville met in a late-season tuneup for their respective playoffs.

Wheeling Park turned up the offense with a shooting gallery, putting 23 shots on goal during the game. The Red Devils stood tall for 40 minutes, but Abbey Anderson broke a scoreless tie with a goal 17 seconds into the second half and it was all Patriots from there, claiming a 4-0 victory Tuesday at Wheeling Island Stadium.

“It was a really good battle, especially in the first half,” Wheeling Park coach Carrie Hanna said. “We couldn’t find a way past their goalkeeper. She was making phenomenal saves and they were playing very good defense and it was difficult to break down.

“We talked at half about playing a little bit quicker, stretching the field more to get them to shift a little bit more so we could find gaps.”

The Patriots (11-3-2) peppered St. Clairsville goalie Jaeda Nowak with eight shots in the first half, but the sophomore netminder was up to the task, keeping each one out of the net.

With so many shots and 90 percent of the play in the first half on the St. Clairsville side of the field, it seemed like a matter of when, not if, Wheeling Park would score first.

Once the second half started, the answer didn’t take long.

Anderson took a pass from Mia Zecca and found a way to put the ball past Nowak for a 1-0 lead 17 seconds in.

“Soccer is a funny game and I never take anything lightly,” Hanna said. “You can dominate, but the score does not always reflect it sometimes.

“We told them at halftime to go out and get lots of movement, keep the ball moving quickly and you saw the 1-2 touch, three passes and 17 seconds later we had a goal. We looked at each other and said ‘doesn’t that look easy? Why can’t we do that all game?’ They really combined and connected for that goal.”

Now that the Patriots finally solved Nowak, the onslaught began.

Graceylyn Hanna fired a shot over Nowak’s head less than three minutes later to double the lead.

Emma Delk added one five minutes later as Anderson’s shot went wide, but Delk was there to knock it into the net.

“That was our plan to play quick,” Coach Hanna said. “It doesn’t matter who put it in the back of the net, it was the whole team working to keep the ball moving. The faster the ball, the harder it is to defend. We actually set the goal for those starters to score three goals in 10 minutes and they did.”

Delk added another in the 76th minute on an assist from Graceylyn Hanna to complete the scoring.

The Patriots will play at Woodrow Wilson on Saturday to complete the regular season slate before the sectionals begin next week.

Wheeling Park Deanna Crumm didn’t have too much work, making two saves to earn a shutout victory.

The St. Clairsville offense was stagnant most of the night, much of that having to do with the Red Devils playing minus standout Alyssa Otto. The leading goal-scorer in Ohio didn’t suit up and left at halftime to get an MRI on her elbow.

“We played an extremely talented team and we were down a few starters with injuries, not that it would have made a huge difference, but it would have helped,” St. Clairsville coach Wes Stoner said. “It hurts and we didn’t get a lot of scoring chances.

“I thought we defended really well, at least in the first half, but we just couldn’t possess it. We have to figure out a way to create and that is what we tried to work on. It was good for us to see a quality team like Wheeling Park, but that it is a concern for sure.”

Nowak made 19 saves for the Red Devils (8-6).

“She has been excellent all year and was really put to the test,” Stoner said. “I was proud of her.”