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Red Devils eliminate Big Red girls, 1-0

MAKING PLAYS — Steubenville’s Mary Marshall looks to make a play during a Division II sectional final against St. Clairsville on Thursday. - Kim North

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The old adage that defense wins championships came into play Thursday night in a Division II Eastern District sectional final girls high school soccer match.

St. Clairsville and Steubenville went toe-to-toe like a pair of heavyweight boxers on the artificial pitch inside chill-filled Red Devil Stadium, with the fourth-seeded Red Devils delivering the lone knockout punch in a 1-0 victory. It marked the second time St. Clairsville has slipped past Big Red this season, winning 2-1 a few weeks back.

With the Red Devils nursing their slim 1-0 advantage, fifth-seeded Steubenville (9-8-1) nearly evened things. However, goalkeeper Jaeda Nowak kept things that way. Big Red’s Anastasia Crisante found herself all alone in the lower box to Nowak’s right. Her shot was headed for the net, but Nowak dove to her right and deflected the ball out of harm’s way. It was her fourth and final save of the night, which preserved her eighth shutout.

“The biggest one (shutout) was tonight. It’s survive and advance time,” St. Clairsville head coach Wes Stoner said. “As usual this year, our defense has been amazing, and tonight was no different. They played excellent. We didn’t give them many chances, if any. They got one really good chance that I remember, and it came on a breakdown by us, but Jaeda saved it. I told her when she came off the field that she was the reason this game wasn’t going to overtime.”

Nowak, a junior, explained what was running through her mind as Crisante approached.

“Once she was coming one-on-one, I was like, ‘Oh boy.’ But, once I stopped her shot, I was proud of myself,” she said. “I’m so proud of the defense in front of me. They do such a great job that it makes mine that much easier.”

She was crediting the play of junior Bella Swan, sophomore Sierra Musser and freshmen Megan Malin and Gianna Nardo.

The Red Devils got the only goal midway through the 21st minute. Emily Vera, the lone senior on the Red Devils’ talented roster, kept the ball in the Steubenville end of the field.

She then sent a beautiful feed to sophomore Emily Thompson to the left of Big Red senior goalkeeper Zoe Nocera. Thompson let loose a right-footed shot that found the far corner of the net. It became St. Clairsville’s third shot of the contest.

“That’s only Emily’s second goal of the season, but boy was it a pretty one,” Stoner said. “She was actually where we told her to be, and she put it in. Macy (Malin) had a golden opportunity, also, but Zoe is tough. She played a great game, as well.”

Nocera, who had to leave the match in the 78th minute with an undisclosed injury after a collision with Thompson, finished with five saves on six shots, but none was bigger than when she turned away a blast from Macy Malin with a diving punch away. Lakyn Blackburn stopped the lone shot she faced.

“They were in the right place at the right time and popped one through,” Steubenville head coach Jared Robinson said. “Unfortunately, we hit everywhere on the bar tonight and just couldn’t find the back of the net.

“Hats off to both keepers. Both played a tremendous match. Both of these teams played a tremendous game. If you came here and watched this game, you saw what a sectional final should be. A game between two evenly matched teams going up against each other.”

Stoner said that although Thompson scored the goal and Vera assisted, everyone was involved.

“Every time there is a goal in this game, there’s effort everywhere from a lot of people,” he said. “If we didn’t stop them down here (in our defensive end), it (the ball) wouldn’t have got up to Emily (Vera) to setup Emily (Thompson) to score. We talk about that all the time. From Jaeda up, all goals scored and goals scored on us is on the 11 players on the pitch at that time, not one person.”

With the cherished triumph, St. Clairsville (11-5-2) moves on to the district semifinals Monday against second-seeded John Glenn, a 4-0 winner over No. 12 seed Zanesville Thursday night, at a site to be determined. Stoner hinted that the match could be played at Harrison Central High School, where the two met two years ago.

Robinson said it will be tough to come out next season and not have this senior class there.

“This is a great group of girls. I can’t be any prouder of this senior group,” he said while holding back his emotions.

“They have worked hard and fought all the way to the end. They have turned out to be the way they are supposed to be. I’m proud of them and the rest of my team.”

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