Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WINCHESTER — When Rylee Leonard woke up on Tuesday morning, Wheaties might have just been her breakfast choice.
In the team’s most important game to date, Eastern’s sophomore striker played like a champion.
Leonard scored five goals, not a typo, in a 7-1 win over Alexander in a Division III district semifinal. The Warriors will now have a chance to win their first-ever district crown.
“Mary [Litzinger] is up there with me now. I scored five goals but also, she had two assists to me,” Leonard said of her performance. “Maybe some nights, I’ll be the one that’s passing to her or maybe we’ll just split [goals]. But the biggest thing is we all play our roles. It’ll fall whichever way.”
As you can infer, Leonard’s concern isn’t finding the back of the net. It’s finding a way to win.
Against the Spartans, Eastern (13-5) found out early that physicality and aggressiveness would lead them to advancement. The Warriors constantly bullied Alexander near its own net and powered shot after shot towards the Spartans’ goalkeeper.
In total, Eastern outshot Alexander by a 19-7 margin and put 12 shots on target. And that’s while playing shorthanded.
“We’ve lost five players recently due to injury,” senior captain Caitlyn Wills said. “But [Eastern] coach [Doug Silvis] always works to find the perfect spot for everyone. His intense training teaches us foot skills and he just focuses on what we need to work on as individuals to build us up.”
Litzinger got the night’s scoring started with a goal less than three minutes into the action. But with 31:21 left in the first half, Alexander (9-8) struck back thanks to a goal from Jenelle Fauber.
But that’s the last time the Spartans would sniff a score.
Leonard gave the Warriors a 2-1 lead with 28:04 left before making it 3-1 at the 16:19 mark, off an assist from Litzinger. The sophomore then scored her third goal with 3:38 left, giving Eastern a 4-1 advantage at halftime.
“I feel like in the middle of the season, we kind of hit a low point,” Leonard said. “We just had to work players around the lineup and see what fit best. I think we have a pretty good look now.”
Leonard furthered the lead to 5-1 with 34:57 remaining in the second half before tallying her fifth and final goal with 19:32 left, off an assist from Litzinger. Wills rounded out the night’s final score with 2:03 to go, off an assist from Emma Prine, lathering the icing on the cake.
The Warriors advance to a Division III district final on Saturday, where they’ll meet with Wheelersburg. The Pirates beat Fairfield in penalty kicks by a 2-2 (2-0) final on Tuesday.
First touch between the two is set for 1:30 p.m. at Waverly’s Raidiger Field.
“Last year, we lost in overtime to Lynchburg-Clay [in a district final] in penalty kicks. They were a strong team,” Wills said. “The year before that, we lost in the district final. It’s always been an unlucky ending for us. So we’re going to push through at the very end. Our second half has to be very strong. We’re going to reinforce the positive qualities about everyone and hope they carry those into the game.”