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Steubenville girls soccer team holds on to advance to OVAC finals

LEAPING HIGH — Steubenville’s Mary Marshall and Brooke’s Brianna Ferguson nearly collide while going after the ball during Tuesday’s OVAC Class 5A semifinal match. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

STEUBENVILLE — The match was worthy of the old NFL “Aloca presents: Fantastic Finishes!” commercials of the 1970s and 80s.

Trailing by a goal with less than a minute to play, a Brooke player ripped a shot on goal from inside the box. However, Big Red goalie Lakyn Blackburn made the save, allowing No. 2 seed Big Red to record a 3-2 victory against No. 3 Brooke in an OVAC Class 5A tournament semifinal Tuesday night on Reno Field inside Harding Stadium.

“It was very nervewracking,” first-year Big Red (6-1-1) head coach Annie Cutri said. “It was very exciting. It kept people on the edge of their seats.”

Big Red built a two-goal advantage in the second half, but Brooke battled back and pulled within a goal with just under 23 minutes left to play in the match. The Bruins spent the remainder of the match pushing forward in hopes of score the equalizing goal, but Blackburn and the Big Red defense stepped up when it had to to keep the visitors off of the scoreboard the rest of the way.

“It was definitely a good game today,” Brooke (2-4-2) head coach Elias Hannaoui said. “I am proud of the girls. They did not quit. They kept the pressure on until the last second. With this being an OVAC semifinal, I am pleased with their performance. We had a lot of opportunities, but we just could not finish. Their goalie made some great saves when she had to make them.

“Their forwards were fast. We were worried about No. 22 (Chloe Petrelle). We did not want to leave her open. She was able to use her speed to create some chances. She was hard for us to contain. Our girls played a great game. I could not be more proud of them.”

Hannaoui had good reason to be worried about Petrelle, as the senior netted the first two goals of the match for Big Red. Mary Marshall also tallied a goal, while Jaleyss Scales collected an assist.

Blackburn made seven saves on the night for the hosts.

Brooke Ohler and Ella McCullough each scored an unassisted goal for the Bruins. Goalie Franki Neff finished with 11 saves.

“Brooke was physical,” Cutri said. “They played high-pressure defense. They have strong throw-ins, corner kicks and free kicks. The girls were ready. They were hungry for the ball. They made it difficult on us to possess the ball like we want to in the box. They are strong on their free kicks, their throw-ins and their corners. We did not want to give them any throw-ins.

“Lakyn made some great saves. She was aggressive. She played a great game.”

Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Brooke struck quickly in the second half to tie the score at 1-all, as Ohler fired a shot into the net to even the score with 37:26 left to play.

The deadlock did not last long. Big Red was awarded a free kick almost three minutes later, and Petrelle took full advantage of the opportunity. She produced her second goal from 45-yards out when the ball bounced past Neff and into the back of the net, enabling the home team to regain the lead with 34:25 remaining to be played.

Big Red increased its advantage to 3-1 when Marshall scored with 25:55 still showing on the clock.

The Bruins bounced back and scored almost three minutes later when McCullough scored on a corner kick to make it 3-2 with 22:56 left. The ball bounced off of Blackburn’s gloves before going into the back of the net.

“We knew coming in that they liked to play the ball up top,” Cutri said. “We knew they liked to get the ball to their fast players. They wanted to send the ball up and try to get it behind our defense. We were able to make the adjustment on defense.

Brooke pushed forward in hopes of drawing even, and though the Bruins had a couple golden opportunities to tie the score, they were unable to get another shot past Blackburn.

“We kept the pressure on,” Hannaoui said. “I gambled. I put another forward up top. We had nothing to lose. We kept the pressure on, and it almost paid off for us.”

Brooke nearly had a goal when the ball got past Blackburn, but Big Red defender Isabella Phillips cleared the ball off of the line in the nick of the time to prevent the ball from going into the net.

“That was Isabella Phillips,” Cutri said. “She made a great play. She played a great game. That is the best game she has played as our center back.”

The game was scoreless for more than 32 minutes in the first half until Petrelle tallied the first goal of the match with 7:49 left before halftime.

“The girls are happy to be able to play,” Hannaoui said. “It was a great game. It was nice we were able to make it this far. Give credit to Big Red. Their girls have made a huge improvement. They made a lot of good passes. They have definitely improved. Their coach is doing a great job. They have improved a lot.”

With the win, Big Red has advanced to the Class 5A final scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at Red Devil Stadium down at St. Clairsville.

“It means a lot,” Cutri said about her team making it to the tournament final. “The girls are setting a precedent. They have taken the challenge on. This is where we want to be at.”

Big Red will take on the winner of the other semifinal between No 1 Parkersburg South and No. 4 John Marshall scheduled for 6 p.m. today at Parkersburg South.

Brooke is scheduled to play John Marshall at 3 p.m. Saturday on the road.

“Playing in the tournament was huge for us,” Hannaoui said. “This was the first time in five years. This was a good thing for us. This was important. It was good for them to see what this is all about. Hopefully, this will make them come back next year even more prepared, so they can make it back here.”

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