BECKLEY — In soccer, opportunities are only as good as the ones that are converted.
On Friday, both Winfield and Charleston Catholic girls had plenty of chances. The Irish seized those chances. Winfield did not.
And so Catholic earned a 4-1 win over Bridgeport to advance to Saturday’s Class AA-A championship game and Winfield, despite holding a 9-4 advantage in shots on goal, fell 1-0 to Oak Glen.
The Irish and Bears will square off at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday for a state title.
Winfield (18-6-1) missed opportunities. In the end, Phoebe Molish had the game’s only score, converting on a scramble in Winfield’s box with 14:30 remaining to send the Bears (18-2-2) into Saturday’s championship match.
It marked Molish’s second goal of the season and it couldn’t have come at a bigger time.
“We understand we have to play a different style when we get down here and I think we did that,” Oak Glen coach Ryan Wells said. “You have to prove yourself against big soccer schools in this state and I think today, we took a big step toward doing that.”
Winfield dominated possession throughout, couldn’t quite break through. Senior forward Julianne Pauley, who entered the state tournament with the team lead in goals at 24, exited midway through the first half with illness and didn’t return, depriving the Generals of their top scoring option.
“That hurt,” Winfield coach Jade Smith said. “She’s a goal scorer. She knows how to create and make diagonal. She’s been our dominant forward all season. Other people have played forward — but it hurt not having her.”
Pauley is one of six senior starters that will exit the program with nine straight state tournament appearances to its credit. This final season came with a new coaching staff after longtime coach Marshall Hoff gave way to Jade Smith.
Defenders Mara McGrew and Emily Bryant reflected on the season and their careers in the aftermath of Friday’s loss.
“It was different with a new coach,” McGrew said. “We had to adjust to it, but once we bought in we were doing good. We didn’t expect to lose this early.”
“It was a fast four years, I’ll say that for sure,” Bryant added. “You take things from different coaches and altogether, they taught us different things.”
Oak Glen stopped nine shots with Winfield keeper Christin Walls making three saves.
Catholic (21-1) had to avenge its only loss of the season and did so with a three-goal flurry over the final 22:06 to pull away from a dangerous Bridgeport (19-2-1) squad.
The teams entered the halftime break knotted at 1-1. Elizabeth Rushworth volleyed in a goal off a cross from Lindsay Car just 6:20 into the match to give Catholic a 1-0 lead. Bridgeport’s Braelynne Sandreth tied it 10:38 later, beating Catholic keeper Katie Nester one-on-one for a score.
Bridgeport came out firing in the second half, missing a couple of close chances early on, but after 10 minutes, the tide started to turn, culminating with a score from Carr at the 22:06 mark.
“I think it changed the whole momentum of the game,” Carr said. “Once we got that second goal we were on fire and were all working together. We could see the end.”
Some unsung heroes in the middle did some great work for the Irish, with freshman midfielders Emma Cimino and Claire Mullen teaming with junior Hannah Rahin to help keep the ball pinned on Bridgeport’s half of the field.
Once there, freshman Shannon Karr and sophomore Bella Cinco took care of the attack. Cinco scored twice after Carr’s goal, once with 15:56 remaining and once with 7:30 to go, both of which were set up by Karr, who was credited with an assist on Catholic’s third goal. On the fourth, Karr carried the ball through Bridgeport defenders up the sideline, eventually passing to Cinco who crossed over Bridgeport keeper Mackenzie Randolph and found the back of an open net.