BECKLEY — In soccer, opportunities are only as good as the ones that are converted.
On Friday, both Winfield and Charleston Catholic girls soccer teams had plenty of chances. The Irish seized those chances. Winfield did not.
And so Catholic earned a 4-1 win over Bridgeport to advance to Saturday’s Class AA-A championship game and Winfield, despite holding a 9-4 advantage in shots on goal, fell 1-0 to Oak Glen.
The Irish and Bears will square off at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday for the state title.
To get there, Catholic (21-1) had to avenge its only loss of the season and did so with a three-goal flurry over the final 22:06 to pull away from a dangerous Bridgeport squad that finished at 19-2-1.
“We just knew we had to win it in the midfield,” Catholic coach Amy Mullen said. “They have a strong midfield — those girls are big and good — and we knew we had to win it in the midfield so they wouldn’t flick it to their fast forward. We’d been talking about it all week, we’d watched film.
“Things just started to click.”
The teams entered the halftime break knotted at 1-1. Elizabeth Rushworth volleyed in a goal off a cross from Lindsay Carr just 6:20 into the match to give Catholic a 1-0 lead. Bridgeport’s Braelynne Sandreth knotted it up 10:38 later, beating Catholic keeper Katie Nester one-on-one for a score.
Bridgeport came out firing in the second half, missing a couple of close chances early on, but after 10 minutes the tide started to turn, culminating with a score from Carr at the 22:06 mark that changed the complexion of the game for good.
“I think it changed the whole momentum of the game,” Carr said. “Once we got that second goal we were on fire and were all working together. We could see the end.”
Some unsung heroes in the middle did some great work for the Irish with freshmen midfielders Emma Cimino and Claire Mullen teaming with junior Hannah Rahin to help keep the ball pinned on Bridgeport’s half of the field.
Once there, freshman Shannon Karr and sophomore Bella Cinco took care of the attack. Cinco scored twice after Carr’s goal, once with 15:56 remaining and once with 7:30 to go, both set up by Karr, who was credited with an assist on Catholic’s third goal. On the fourth, Karr carried the ball through Bridgeport defenders up the sideline, eventually passing to Cinco, who crossed over Bridgeport keeper Mackenzie Randolph and found the back of an open net.
The Irish now have a chance to stop a streak of three-straight losses in the championship game, with a date against an Oak Glen squad making its first appearance in the title game.
“We know the feeling of losing and it’s really bad, nobody ever wants to feel that way,” Carr said. “We all know how it feels and we’re going to work harder than ever. We’ve seen this movie before, last year and the year before whenever RCB beat Winfield, we were excited to play them and then they showed us what was up. We have to be ready for tomorrow and not underestimate anyone.”
The Irish out shot Bridgeport 12-2, including 7-0 in the second half. Randolph made eight saves for the Indians.
Oak Glen 1, Winfield 0: Winfield (18-6-1) also had an advantage in shots, but with each missed opportunity, the pressure ratcheted up another notch.
In the end, Phoebe Molish had the game’s only score, converting on a scramble in Winfield’s box with 14:30 remaining to send the Bears (18-2-2) into Saturday’s championship match.
It marked Molish’s second goal of the season and it couldn’t have come at a bigger time.
“We understand we have to play a different style when we get down here and I think we did that,” Oak Glen coach Ryan Wells said. “You have to prove yourself against big soccer schools in this state and I think today, we took a big step toward doing that.”
Winfield dominated possession throughout but couldn’t quite break through. Senior forward Julianne Pauley, who entered the state tournament with the team lead in goals at 24, exited midway through the first half with illness and didn’t return, depriving the Generals of their top scoring option.
“That hurt,” Winfield coach Jade Smith said. “She’s a goal scorer. She knows how to create and make diagonal. She’s been our dominant forward all season. Other people have played forward, but it hurt not having her.”
Pauley is one of six senior starters who will exit the program with nine straight state tournament appearances to its credit. This final season came with a new coaching staff after longtime coach Marshall Hoff gave way to Jade Smith.
Defenders Mara McGrew and Emily Bryant reflected about the season and their careers in the aftermath of Friday’s loss.
“It was different with a new coach,” McGrew said. “We had to adjust to it but once we bought in we were doing good. We didn’t expect to lose this early.”
“It was a fast four years, I’ll say that for sure,” Bryant added. “You take things from different coaches and altogether, they taught us different things.”
Oak Glen stopped nine shots with Winfield keeper Christin Walls making three saves.