Story by John McDermott
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Baseball may be considered the game of inches, but on Saturday afternoon in the Division I girls soccer district final at Avon, the Westlake Demons won a match of inches.
In a contest featuring several missed opportunities and close calls, Westlake cashed in on a goal from junior midfielder Megan Konrad to post a 1-0 win over its Southwestern Conference rival North Olmsted.
The victory improved the Demons to 11-6-1 on the season and secured their spot in Tuesday night’s Rocky River Division I regional semifinal against Medina. The Bees punched their ticket with a 3-2 win over Copley in overtime. North Olmsted, which defeated top seeded Magnificat to get to the district final, closed out its season with a 5-10-4 mark.
“It’s been quite an up and down season for us,” said Westlake coach Scott Jones. "We have a young team, and that happens when you’re young.
“It’s kind of a rollercoaster situation sometimes, but the girls have hung in and they have persevered. They’ve been very coachable and they’ve listened to what we’ve wanted them to do,” he said.
And what the coach wanted his girls to do against the Eagles was attack, and that they did. Westlake fired off the first six shots on goal, and kept the ball on its end of the field for most of the first half. But with some great play in the goal from North Olmsted senior keeper Ashley Balasko, the match was scoreless at the intermission.
“I thought that we were pressuring them pretty well, so we knew that we’d get some good chances,” Jones said. “We just had to keep it up, and we did.”
The pressure finally paid off in the in 52nd minute as junior midfielder Lauren Hurst dribbled down the left side of the box, cut inside around an Eagle defender and slipped a centering pass to a cutting Konrad. Konrad redirected the ball past Balasko and into the lower left side of the net from five yards out.
“Lauren and I have played together since we were young, and we work on things like that every day at practice,” said Konrad. “We just have so much chemistry together that I knew she’d get me the ball. I just had to be there for it.
“There was definitely some worry (about prior missed opportunities), but I knew we’d pull through,” she continued. “We are a good second half team, and seem to get stronger as the game goes on. We fight till the end, so I knew we had it in us.”
With the lone goal on the board on the Westlake side, the Demons turned to junior goalie Alexis Carpenter to make it stand up. Carpenter, who collected just four saves on the day, came up big on a pair late in the match.
In the 58th minute, North Olmsted had a golden opportunity to even the match. Freshmen forward Madison Johnson found junior teammate Nicole Dembie in the center of the box on a corner kick, but Dembie’s header was knocked away by Carpenter and cleared by the Demon defense.
And then, with under two minutes to play, Dembie lifted a free kick into the Westlake box which was redirected by an Eagle teammate and in to the hands of Carpenter. The shot would be the final of North Olmsted’s season.
“She (Dembie) is big and very strong, but I thought ‘it’s my ball and I’ll do whatever I have to do to get it.’” Carpenter said of Dembie’s header. “On the other one, I saw the ball and wanted to watch it all the way in. I knew it was going to go off her head, and that’s what happened. I secured it, and that was it.
“We get frantic usually, but today we really pulled together and stayed composed,” said Carpenter of her team’s defense. “We just had to play smart and just do what we know how to do.”
Turning the Eagles back in those situations was key to the win, according to Jones.
“We knew that they scored on Magnificat on a corner kick, so we were afraid of giving up a corner kick or a free kick,” he said. “That has kind of been our Achilles’ heel all year long,” he said.
“That’s something that we knew that they could do, and they could do it pretty well. With the wind, and against a good team, you’re usually going to give some up. The girls stepped up and were able to handle it.”
And Jones had nothing but praise for the play of his keeper.
“She’s been about as steady as she could possibly be all year,” he said. “We think she’s one of the best goalkeepers in northeast Ohio, if not the state of Ohio. So to be honest with you, it’s not really that big of a surprise that she did it (came up with big stops), because she does that every day and in every game.”
North Olmsted coach Erika Fielder knew the importance of cashing in on her teams restart kicks.
“Those are really crucial, but we just couldn’t get one in,” she said. “That’s how we scored on Magnificat, and then we held them off the rest of the game. It just didn’t happen for us today.
“We felt that having the wind in the second half, we’d be down in their end, but we just made too many mistakes. We just couldn’t get the right touch on the ball.
“We could have played better,” said Fielder, with a laugh. “They have a good team, and it was nice to have two SWC teams play in the district finals. It’s tough to lose and have your season end, but only one team in Division I will not end their season this way.”