Brock Netter, Contributor
WAVERLY — Regular season accomplishments are nice, but Waverly wants more than just its first-ever SOC II championship.
However, the journey to hoisting another title nearly ended before it started on Tuesday against Jackson in a Division II sectional semifinal.
The Tigers, who had never beaten Jackson before in program history, scratched and clawed at every point and angle possible, just needing to find one small break.
They got it in with 27:45 left in the second half as Loren Moran connected with the back of the net off a free kick from Ameila Willis to push the Tigers past the Ironladies by a 2-1 final.
“First things first, all credit to Jackson. They’re a really good team who played aggressive and moved the ball really well,” Waverly coach Chris Murphy said. “They looked to play us over the top, which got us on our heels a little bit. But we finally settled in and moved the ball pretty well which shut down Jackson’s attack. Although we didn’t play our typical game, we did enough to get the win and beat them for the first time ever.”
The road to toppling Jackson (7-6-4) was a rough one as the Ironladies came out swinging. Their over-the-top style worked in the beginning as they managed to get off a handful of shots, only to miss wide right a handful of times.
Then Waverly (14-3) dialed in and began to go on the attack, taking the fight to the Ironladies before drawing first blood.
Moran took a corner kick, and placed it perfectly in front of Willis, who connected with the back of the net for a 1-0 lead with 31:02 left in the first half.
After more back-and-forth play, Jackson earned a corner kick of its own and capitalized. Taylor Thorpe sent a kick high into the box, right towards Brynlee Vermillion, and the senior forward sent a header into the net to tie the game at 1-1, which was eventually the halftime score.
“During halftime, we talked about playing to our standard instead of playing Jackson’s game,” Murphy said. “We made a couple of switches, moved Loren to the nine and switched Zoiee [Smith] to the outside since she was getting double-teamed. Defensively, we packed the middle and forced them to take the ball outside and away from the net. Our fullbacks did a great job of closing the middle.”
Even with the adjustments, Jackson managed to get through the back line and Vermillion had a one-on-one breakaway for a chance at a goal. But Waverly keeper Anna Jordan came up with what turned out to be the save of the night, extending her body wide and deflecting the shot attempt back into the field of play.
“That was an incredible save Anna made,” Murphy said. “It easily could have been a goal to completely flip the game upside down and she came up big when we needed her. She played absolutely lights out and made a ton of great saves to keep us in it.”
That save created momentum that Waverly desperately needed with Jackson already launching three shots. The Tigers came storming back while waiting for an opportunity to strike.
They got their chance minutes later on the free kick from Moran that ultimately rounded out the final score before Waverly held off a late Ironladies’ rally for the win.
“After that goal, the girls played with a level of confidence, yet they weren’t overconfident either because there was still a lot of time left on the clock,” Murphy said. “They played smart the rest of the way and made sure to finish strong in the final minutes. The unity they have and communication on the field allowed them to finish that game.”
Waverly moves on to play in a Division II sectional final on Saturday at Warren, which defeated Gallia Academy 3-1 to advance. First touch is set for 11 a.m.
“Warren has very strong centerbacks who are very quick and physical,” Murphy said. “We’ll have to figure out a way to isolate them and get them to drift to the far side, using our crossing to find our wings. Staying disciplined with our defensive shape and cutting off the passing lanes is huge. In the end, it comes down to us playing our game and remaining patient on the field with how we attack.”