Jeni Odebrecht and her Orange Pioneers had to wait an extra day before finding out exactly who they would face in their Division I sectional girls soccer championship Thursday night. Turns out, it didn’t matter.
Orange dominated play in the second half and scored twice after a evenly-played first half and scored a 2-0 victory over the Hilliard Darby Panthers on a cold, rainy evening at Pioneer Stadium.
“The plan tonight was to come out and be extremely high-pressure and be as relentless as possible,” Odebrecht said. “We increased the amount of substituting we normally do just because I feel we have a lot of depth and that would be an advantage for us. We kept the pressure up in the first half and the goals finally came in the second half.”
Orange (10-7), which earned its first trip to the Districts since the 2008 campaign, will play a Division I District semifinal at either Westerville North or New Albany at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and the Pioneers earned that trip with the help of a great many underclass players.
“We are extremely young this year, and it feels good to see so many young players stepping up like Emily Beaver, Taylor Momberg, Gabby Hopkins and Amy Luce,“ Odebrecht said. “So many of our younger girls are playing like veteran players, and its great to see.”
Things started as one might expect from two evenly-matched teams. A great deal of the play came in the middle of the field, and when either Orange or Hilliard Darby (9-7-3) earned shot opportunities, they were turned away by the opposing defenses.
But near the middle of the half, Orange began to keep play in Darby’s defensive end and pressure the Panther defense only to be turned away. Orange’s best chance came just inside the halfway point, when the Pioneers earned a free kick from 25 yards out, but junior Carly Swisher’s attempt sailed just over the crossbar.
In the final few minutes of the half, Darby’s defense helped it earn counter-attacks against the Orange defense, and the Panthers earned their only shot on goal when the Panthers’ Ellen Ransom took a ball down the far side into the 18 and fired, only to see Orange senior goalkeeper Shauni Kerkhoff come up with the save.
“Our back line did a great job,” Odebrecht said. “This is the greatest number of players we’ve ever had playing in the back line and it’s the most depth and talent we’ve had since we started the program. I can’t say enough good things about our back line.”
Orange attacked the Darby net right off the second half kickoff and got some decent chances, but could not get shots inside the 18-yard box.
That didn’t matter to the Pioneers. On one attack, the ball came out to freshman Emily Beaver, who dribbled around a Panther defender fired the ball into the right side of the goal from 25 yards out past Darby keeper Alex Hoferkamp with 31:33 left in the match.
“Emily had a couple opportunities in the first half that she didn’t take, and I think we got the point across to her at halftime,” Odebrecht said. “We just told her you can score unless you take the shot, and we were happy to see her step up and bury that shot.”
Orange continued to dominate the half, keeping the ball in Darby’s end until their pressure paid further dividends.
Junior Brittany Barber shot a pass through a pair of Panther defenders and into the near corner, where Beaver ran the ball down. The freshman dribbled into the 18 and flicked a pass into the six-yard box, where sophomore Stephanie Lewis tipped the ball past Hoferkamp and into the net with 16:10 left.
“It was just a matter of time, and that was the message we tried to impress upon them,” Odebrecht said. “We had to be relentless, and I think they were relentless all night.”
The Panthers, now down two goals, tried to rally in the late going, getting off four shots in the final five minutes, but only one found the goal mouth, and that one was easily stopped by Kerkhoff, who despite being untested and recording just two saves, still had a solid night.
“The thing about Shauni is, even though she wasn’t tested too often, she stepped up when we needed her,” Odebrecht said. “She takes care of the goal and gets the job done, and did that again tonight and got her shutout.”
Orange held a 13-7 edge in total shots and a 9-2 advantage in shots on goal. Both teams had just one corner kick.
Hoferkamp finished with seven saves for the Panthers.