Amongst the cheering and yelling of the fans on hand, one voice could be heard above all others in the waning moments of the Division 2 girls soccer contest between rivals Maple Grove and Frewsburg.
"For the love of God, girls," it implored, "keep playing!"
It was, as it turned out, the voice of Maple Grove coach Mike Burr. And with a backup goaltender in the net and the Frewsburg offense's prolonged possession in the Red Dragons' zone, it was all he could do to squeeze that last ounce of energy from them that was necessary to finish strong.
Maple Grove’s Sara Stawitzky, middle, is congratulated by her teammates after scoring a second-half goal on Wednesday in a Division 2 soccer game against Frewsburg. From the left are Alison Winchester, Sara Stawitzky, Paige Sirwatka and Emily Swanson. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J?photo by Rob Tucker
Maple Grove heard their coach's appeals to keep fighting, and in the end managed to come out ahead of the Bears, 2-1, in what was the first meeting between the two squads since Frewsburg knocked out the then-undefeated Red Dragons in the Section 6 Class C semifinals a season ago.
"What a great game," Burr said afterwards. "It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was a big game for us; a game for first place, so it felt great to get the win."
With the victory, Maple Grove moved ahead of Frewsburg in the Division 2 standings and is now a perfect 5-0 overall and 4-0 in league. The Bears, meanwhile, dropped to 3-1 both overall and in league play.
The outcome boiled down to what occurred during the final five minutes of the opening half and the first five of the second.
Late in the first half goaltender Lauren Nickerson, who had yet to surrender even one goal thus far this season and to that point in the game had already made six saves, collided with a Frewsburg player as the two raced for a loose ball in front of the net. Nickerson was injured on the play and had to be helped off the field. Soon thereafter, with backup goalie Haley Fox tending the goal, the half ended in a scoreless tie.
It didn't stay that way for long, however, as the Red Dragons came out with more energy than their opponents and scored a pair of goals in quick succession to build a 2-0 lead with over 30 minutes remaining in regulation.
"It's an 80-minute game," Frewsburg coach Ericka Alm said, "and we broke down for five minutes and they got two in on us. You've got to play 80 minutes hard. That's it. In that five minutes we let down."
Alex Novotny tallied the first just seven minutes into the half when she got behind the defense and beat Frewsburg netminder Tessa Alianell and then a little more than two minutes later Sara Stawitzky received a pass from Emma Franczak along the left side of the 18-yard box and Stawitzky fired a shot past Alianell just inside the right post.
"We talked at halftime and we had to adjust some things," Burr explained. "We were getting beat to a lot of balls, so we had to up our energy level, we had to play the ball to our feet because Frewsburg moves so well that it made it hard for us and we weren't finding our passes. The third thing is I think that they rallied around Haley Fox."
Following the two goals, Fox, a sophomore who had played, as Burr noted, "a piece of one game," in her varsity career, held strong when thrown into the fire. She surrendered just one goal - a header by Maddie Whippo off a solid cross from Abbey Jermaine - midway through the half and then made eight more saves, withstanding heavy pressure along the way, to secure her team's victory.
"It was kind of an intense way to start her career in goal, but she played great," Burr said. "She didn't make many mistakes and I'm sure she was a bit apprehensive but I'll tell you what, it didn't show. She played really tough."
Also aiding Fox was the defense in front of her, which was able to clear the ball from danger on more than a few occasions late in the game.
"I had confidence in Haley and I knew we had a good defense, too," Burr said. "They played as hard as they could have played. I told them to prevent shots, and they really prevented quite a few."
Maple Grove is at Salamanca on Friday at 4:30 p.m., while Frewsburg will be looking to bounce back at Portville. The Red Dragons and Bears will face one another once again on Oct. 5.
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Earlier this week, Lauren Nickerson recorded her fourth shutout of the season - and 39th of her career - to lead Maple Grove past Portville, 1-0.
Paige Sirwatka, assisted by Jordan Ahlstrom, scored the eventual game-winner 10 minutes into the first half.