BECKLEY — For three straight years, Charleston Catholic had no luck in the Class AA-A girls soccer state championship game.
On Saturday, the Irish finally made some of their own.
After chipping away at a stingy Oak Glen back line, Catholic finally caught a couple of breaks and then blitzed the Bears, pulling away for a 5-1 win and a state championship at Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex.
The title was the first for Catholic since 2015. Since then, the Irish have suffered three straight disappointments in the season’s final game. And though Saturday’s game seemed to be headed toward a similar result early in the contest, the Irish woke up, roared back and finally killed the monkey on their backs in emphatic fashion.
“It feels good,” Catholic coach Amy Mullen said. “I knew that as long as we were patient, it would start turning for us.”
In a semifinal matchup against Winfield on Friday, Oak Glen frustrated the Generals with a bend-but-don’t-break defense by packing the box and clamping down on space and shooting lanes.
The Bears (18-3-2) came up with a late goal to edge Winfield 1-0 and, on Saturday, came up with an early tally to put themselves up 1-0 and in control of the game. That goal came on a free kick from around 40 yards off the foot of Taylor Allison that snaked its way through the Catholic box and past goalkeeper Katie Nester.
One goal usually is no big deal, but for a team that has hung its hat on withstanding opposing pressure, Oak Glen seemed to have the game right where it wanted it to be.
But after that initial goal with 27:52 remaining in the first half, Catholic began to turn possession and cranked up the offensive pressure.
For nearly the entire remainder of the first half, Oak Glen’s defense held up until Bella Cinco fired a shot into the right corner that hit Bears goalie Alexa Andrews, the post and then Andrews again before rattling in with just 34.6 seconds left until the break. It was the first of two major momentum turns that would change the outcome of the game.
“We started playing passive,” Oak Glen coach Ryan Wells said. “Giving up that late goal at the end of the half, there was a definite momentum shift.
“Every 50-50 ball was theirs after the first 25, 30 minutes. First touch was theirs, second touch was theirs. They’re the best team down here. Winfield played well [Friday] but Catholic brought that physicality with it too.”
Coming out of the break, Catholic (22-1) turned it up yet another notch, but Andrews held firm as Catholic narrowly missed shot after shot.
Finally, 14:06 into the second half, a corner for Catholic ricocheted off an Oak Glen defender and into the net for an own goal to give the Irish their first lead. With the pressure off, Catholic relaxed and, 55 seconds later, Lindsay Carr scored on an assist from Claire Mullen and the rout was on.
“Huge,” Amy Mullen said. “You always hate to see an own goal, but by the time we started putting goals in ourselves I thought, ‘OK, this is our game.’ ”
“After the own goal, we wanted to do it ourselves,” Carr added. “It didn’t really feel like we were winning the game at that point, but we had possession for most of the time anyways, so we just kept fighting.”
The Irish rode their depth and balance to success all season, and never was that more evident than on Saturday. Four players scored one goal and two had an assist, with Annie Cimino and Ashley Green notching their first career goals after Carr’s tally to complete the scoring.
“That is probably the difference is that the depth is there for us when it wasn’t in the past,” Amy Mullen said. “I can’t believe it, to tell you the truth. The last two years I felt like I was walking around with big guns [great individual players]; I’ve just got a solid group now. They’re solid all the way across and they work as a team.”
The Irish lose just two senior starters, Nester and defender Jenna Panaro, to graduation. Those two entered Saturday looking at the possibility of coming up one win short of a title four times. Instead it was finally time for them to celebrate, something Nester relished.
“It’s been a roller coaster these past four years but to end it on a great note, I’m just so grateful and thankful for the best team, best coaches — I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Nester said.
Catholic fired off 25 shots with 13 on frame with Oak Glen registering just three shots. Andrews finished with nine saves with Nester stopping two shots.