John Bruce, Contributor
WASHINGTON C. H. — When the seasons change, we see a lot of differences in our environment.
Apparently for Unioto’s Autumn Stanger, when the regular season ended and the tournament began, she started to bloom.
It’s officially autumn after all.
“She got her number back,” Unioto head coach Jeremy Clark said about Stanger, who had previously worn jersey number 5 instead of her customary No. 37. “After the switch, she’s scored five goals in the past two games.”
Stanger, a freshman, went scoreless throughout her first varsity regular season. But with two more goals Saturday, she now has five in the Shermans’ two tournament wins.
“Even from the beginning of the season, [Stanger] has been a big contributor for us,” Unioto junior goalkeeper Sydney Free said of the freshman. “She hadn’t been able to put one in the back of the net, but now you can see her confidence building and scoring goals for us has been awesome.”
While the final 5-0 score line may make it seem as if it was a blowout from the opening touch, the first 20 minutes were tightly contested. Unioto (10-6-2) only had one shot on goal within the first 20 while Miami Trace (9-7-2) only attempted one shot, and it was high of the goal.
All of that changed at the 15:32 mark in the first half when senior midfielder Kylee Bethel stepped up to take a free kick from just outside the box. Bethel calmly hit a solid shot that just glanced the bottom of the crossbar and ventured into the top of the net, giving the Tanks a lead they would only build on.
Just over five minutes later, another freshman, Ashtyn Miller notched her 10th goal of the season when she recovered a loose ball outside of the box and blasted a left-footed shot into the far side netting, putting the Shermans ahead 2-0.
Right out of halftime, Stanger started to make her presence known.
Her first goal came out of a beautiful build up from the defense through the midfield. Jade Fair played a short pass to XiXi McKell, who fed Brandy Robinson, who touched it to Sophia Garza, who would hit a streaking Stanger down the left sideline.
Stanger made a couple of touches before cutting back and beating the keeper to the far side of the goal for a 3-0 lead. The most impressive part of the sequence was that none of the passes were touched more than once, which kept the Panthers’ defense at bay.
Stanger’s second goal came off of a nicely designed and executed play out of a corner kick, where Garza eventually fed Stanger in the middle of the box and the freshman calmly netted it with her left foot.
Sophomore Gracie Heath finished the scoring at the 10:29 mark after stealing a pass near the top of the Panthers’ box and coolly finishing it.
Following the win, the Shermans’ third consecutive sectional championship, Clark was quick to praise Garza for her play in the midfield.
“She’s starting to really play the way that we knew she can play,” he said. “She’s starting to feel more comfortable where we have her, being able to float between forward and midfield. She’s played well.”
Saturday’s win was the sixth shutout for Unioto on the season, including their third in a row at the best time of the year for them to get going.
“At the beginning of the year, we were experimenting with some lineups and we have started to play better when we found a consistent defensive lineup,” Free said of the defense. “We have been working really hard in practice and in training.”
With the win, the Shermans advance to a Division II district semifinal at Logan High School Thursday evening, where they will face a familiar opponent in the Fairfield Union Falcons.
Last season, Unioto beat Fairfield Union in double overtime by a 1-0 final.
“They have some great speed at the top,” Clark said of the Falcons. “But I feel like if we can match up with their speed and continue to play the feet, I think we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
Shots: Unioto 18, Miami Trace 7
Shots on Goal: Unioto 13, Miami Trace 2
Saves: Unioto 2 (Free 2), Miami Trace 8
Fouls: Unioto 9, Miami Trace 14
Corners Won: Unioto 6, Miami Trace 1
15:32 — Kylee Bethel
10:21 — Ashtyn Miller
37:14 — Autumn Stanger (Sophia Garza)
32:00 — Stanger (Garza)
10:29 — Gracie Heath