On Halloween night at Westerville Central, the Liberty Patriots Girls Soccer team knew they would be facing a stiff challenge as the underdog in a rematch with higher seeded Hilliard Darby. The Panthers dropped a regular season fixture to the Pattys, and their drive to avenge the loss combined with a physical style of play that pushes the envelope would require mental toughness, composure and a total team effort to prevail.
Darby came out with intensity and put the Pattys under extreme pressure in the first 15 minutes, and despite the shaky start, Darby was not able to convert on early chances. The tide turned in the 16th minute when Liberty scored on a textbook counter attack where Abby Jones took a feed from the back line and made a 50 yard run up the flank, fending off and getting behind two Darby defenders, drove to the endline and laid back a perfect pass to Abby Townsend who left no doubt and gave the Pattys a 1-0 lead over the stunned Panthers. Play evened out over the next 15 minutes, but Darby turned up the heat in the final 10 minutes, and the Patriots defensive teamwork kept the score 1-0 at the break.
At halftime, the conversation turned to digging deep and finding the will to meet the physical challenges, and the belief that it would take more than one goal to win the match. The mission was to get the second goal before Darby could settle in for a comeback effort through high pressure and work rate in opening minutes. The Pattys turned that belief into results by earning 3 corners in the first 4 minutes, and converting the third for a 2-0 lead when Abby Jones whipped in a corner that Lyndsey Kijowski collected and buried into the net.
For the balance of the half, Darby brought a “ferocious” team attack that would test Liberty to the limits, but Liberty stood strong with special note to the back four of Olivia Sensky, Sydney Weaver, Mara Follmer, Caitlin Curmode, and goalkeeper Riley Cartwright. Darby eventually cut the lead to 2-1 in the 65th minute when a Darby attacker hit what appeared to be a mishit cross from distance but floated into the far post upper 90 of the goal.
Despite the setback, the Pattys chins were up and determination was clear to finish out the win, and to look for opportunities to counter the high pressure brought by the Panthers. Liberty converted just two minutes later when a foul was committed by Darby as the Pattys pushed forward. On the ensuing free kick, Olivia Sensky served a blast that the goalkeeper mishandled, Emma Lindsey won the second ball and scored what would eventually be the game winner, moving the score to 3-1.
Less than a minute later, Darby countered when a Panther attacker was allowed to turn as she dribbled the ball across the top of the box and get off a shot that floated just under the crossbar and over the diving fingertips of Cartwright to draw the score to 3-2.
In the final 12 minutes, Darby threw numbers forward and Liberty turned in an unmatched collective team defending effort, including multiple clearances and a late diving save by Cartwright to preserve the win.
The victory raises the team record to 12-5-3 on the season and earned a berth in the Regional Final – Elite 8 on this Saturday at a time and location TBD vs. Dublin Jerome, who upset Pickerington North with a 4-3 overtime victory.
The trip to the Regional Final – Elite 8 out of over 175 teams in the OHSAA Division I Playoffs represents the second time in program history to advance this far. The first was in 2015 when the Pattys also had a mid season turnaround after a modest start to advance to the State Tournament Final 4.