Perry Hall beats Blair 1-0 on late goal
In its first ever regional final, the Montgomery Blair Blazers' girls soccer team (10-6-1) lost 1-0 to the Perry Hall Gators (16-1) after a game that forced the Blazers to be strong defensively for 80 full minutes.
From the start Blair knew they would be on defense for most of the game. They stacked the box and dug in on their half of the field. Using a new formation, center back Eleanor Cook was flanked by two defenders on each side. "The plan was to play defense, I watched them play on Friday and they have some fast, powerful girls. We tweaked our defense, we put an extra player back there to frustrate them," head coach Robert Gibb said.
Despite the defensive mindset, Blair went on the counterattack more than a few times in the first half. It all started with the defense. Whether it was Cook in the center or senior back Leah Savage, the ball got from that back line to the midfielders, but it was tough to move the ball any further down the field due to Perry Hall's big midfielders. Senior midfielder Joelle Nwulu kicked a few good balls through, but Blair couldn't connect on the end of them. With 26 minutes remaining, Nwulu chipped a ball over Perry Hall's midfielders, but it was just out of the reach of forward Maddy Merrill. As the game progressed Blair did not see many offensive opportunities. A little over halfway through the half, Freshman forward Noa Dorah made a run down the center of the field, but she was unable to avoid the Gator defenders, and she was stopped. Dorah had another opportunity after a good ball through the left side from Nwulu, but the defender was able to pinch her against the sideline and when her help came the ball was stolen. As the first half came to a close Blair got their first shot. Sophomore Rachel Dey took a long shot from way outside the box with just 40 seconds remaining, but it missed high and to the right.
On the other end, Cook and freshman goalie Zoe Abramson held the defense together. Abramson made countless saves on long shots from Perry Hall's big midfielders. The Gators threatened with corner kicks and free kicks, but Blair held strong. Literally, as senior Katie Ozeroff got hit in the face with a free kick, and still managed to return in the second half and contribute to Blair's great defensive effort. Perry Hall's biggest threat came on a corner kick that was popped over the goal by defender Kinjal Ruecker. But they remained scoreless at the half.
As soon as the second half began, Blair immediately put together an opportunity, with Nwulu crossing to Merrill. The quick shot went straight to the Perry Hall keeper, and they responded quickly, forcing a Blair foul and taking a free kick just three minutes into the second half, The Perry Hall center midfielder took the shot from just outside the box, and it struck the crossbar to Abramson's left, and it was cleared for a corner. Abramson made three saves in five minutes, and Blair had everybody back playing defense. Even Dorah, the forward, made a crucial steal and clearance. Blair did manage to make a few runs on offense. Ruecker shot a ball over the Perry Hall goal, and Nwulu, Dorah and Merrill executed some nice long passes before they came up short. "We knew we were going to get maybe two or three chances on offense, and otherwise we would take it to overtime or penalty kicks," Gibb said
At the seven minute mark Ruecker made a great recovery on the goal line to stop an opportunity. But after Abramson punted it away, the ball came right back on the left side. A shot from the left forward was deflected back to the middle and in the scramble a Gator player was able to put a ball past the Blazers.
For the last six minutes Perry Hall wasted time over and over, and Blair's last-minute effort was not enough to send the game to overtime, and Blair lost 1-0. Blair knew coming in they would have to work their tails off to give themselves a chance. Blair kept Perry Hall frustrated all night, and coach Gibb was very happy with the performance despite a negative outcome. "I couldn't be prouder. They played their hearts out, the best game of the season, certainly worthy of a regional final. It's the first time we've been here but they played with poise and did Blair proud."
Eleanor Cook is co-editor-in-chief of Silver Chips Online
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