Brock Netter, Staff Writer
JACKSON — For the last six years, there have been three guarantees in life … death, taxes and Chillicothe’s girls being conference soccer champions.
Although Jackson (10-4, 7-3 FAC) put up a tough fight and battled to the bitter end, it wasn’t enough on Thursday as the Cavaliers (13-1, 9-0 FAC) scored three goals in the final 15 minutes for a 3-0 victory.
It was the team’s 11th shutout this season.
It also makes six straight conference championships for the Cavaliers. They’ll have a chance to earn a third Gold Ball in a makeup game with Washington next week.
“It’s a great feeling being able to check this goal off of our list,” sophomore forward Avery Erslan said. “Winning the conference for six straight years is a pretty great accomplishment and it definitely feels like a weight is off of our shoulders for now.”
Although Chillicothe maintained ball possession for much of the game, Jackson goalie Mattie Walburn was the story of the first half, and much of the second as well.
The Cavaliers launched more than 15 shots at the net on the evening, including eight in the first half. But they couldn’t get anything by Walburn.
Jackson packed in the box anytime the Cavaliers got within 15 yards of the goal, but anything that got by its back line, Walburn was there to clean it up as she posted six of her 10 saves in the first 40 minutes to keep the game scoreless.
“For her being just a freshman, she’s such an amazing keeper and you can already see the talent she has,” Jackson coach Jon Groff said. “She’s only going to get better and better each year. Our game plan was to give Chillicothe nothing easy and make them shoot from the outside because we trust Mattie to make those saves. We would have gotten beat 8-0 if she didn’t play the way she did. She played an awesome game, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Walburn continued to be a wall, and Jackson’s offense was able to string some passes together to put pressure on the Cavaliers’ defense.
However, the final third of the field was the Ironladies’ biggest downfall as anytime they attempted one extra pass for a potential shot, the ball wound up at a Chillicothe’s feet going the other direction.
“We made it down the field much better in the second half, but making that extra pass successfully was our downfall,” Groff said. “That’s sort of been the story in all of our losses. We get the ball going, start streaking up the field but it’s getting that extra for a shot that kills us. We started to release a little more instead of packing it in like the first half and gave ourselves a chance.”
Jackson’s defense continued to show resistance to Chillicothe’s offense, but the Cavaliers caught their first break after Ali Mathis sent a laser into the back of the net to break the game open and give the Cavaliers a 1-0 lead.
“We struggled in the first half and Jackson made it tough on us to get a shot successfully to connect,” junior midfielder Kailey Doughty said. “That goal really got our momentum going. Everything sort of just came together after that and we started playing better as a team.”
Just minutes later, Gemma Maimone took a free kick from 20 yards away, and the ball hit off the outstretched hands of Walburn and ricocheted into the back of the net. Erslan then capped the night with a goal of her own to put the win on ice.
“My teammates are always playing me the ball, and I’m supposed to swing at it,” Erslan said with a laugh. “We were able to recover pretty quickly after the first half and we played great. With only a couple of games left, finishing our opportunities is the biggest thing for us moving forward. We had a lot of chances that we didn’t finish, so we have to be better once tournaments start in a couple weeks.”
Chillicothe returns to the pitch on Saturday in a non-conference match with Marietta, while Jackson is back in action on Tuesday at Fairfield.