Emma Steele may be only a freshman, but she doesn't play that way.
Already in her second year on the Falconer Lady Golden Falcons varsity squad, Steele has experience, and that experience shone on Wednesday evening under the lights at Charles A. Lawson Field.
With a little more than 10 minutes remaining in regulation and the contest between visiting Falconer and Southwestern locked in a scoreless tie, the Lady Trojans committed a foul two yards outside the area, resulting in a free kick for their opponents. Steele, setting the ball down and backing off a few steps, waited for the referee to move the Lady Trojans' four-person wall back 10 yards, and as she did so her coach, Kersten Hardy, shouted to her from the sideline.
Southwestern’s Erica Stevens, left, and Emma Steele converge on the ball during Wednesday’s Division 1 soccer game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J?photo by Rob Tucker
"I told her, 'Make it count,' Hardy said with a laugh.
And she needed to, for if the previous 70 minutes were any indication, this was going to be the one and only true scoring opportunity for Falconer - or, for that matter, Southwestern.
Steele took advantage.
At the referees' whistle, Steele hit a hard shot that skimmed over the leaping Southwestern wall that then tipped off the outstretched arms of goaltender Britta Johnson into the top of the net for the 1-0 lead that would become, not soon thereafter, the game-winning tally.
The score was Steele's eighth of the season, and she has now scored, over the past two games, Falconer's last three goals.
"That's just what happens in tight games," Southwestern coach Derek Houser said. "(Falconer) got an opportunity and they cashed it in. It was one of those games where it looked like one goal was going to be enough and they got that opportunity and they made us pay for it."
The victory was the third in the last four games for Falconer, which locked up second place in Division 1 behind its 8-3-1 league record. At 9-4-2 overall, the Lady Golden Falcons have just one (non-league) game remaining at Frewsburg on Friday before playoffs begin next week.
"My girls knew this was a must-win game and I thought they stepped up and played awesome," Hardy said. "We passed to feet, we talked, we moved and everybody really stepped it up. They played really well as a team."
Southwestern, hoping to salvage at least a draw, had one last opportunity to score the equalizer with 12 seconds remaining as Emily Wuebbolt sent a free kick into the box, but Falconer goaltender Jordyn Jones made the victory-saving stop as time expired.
"I'm still shaking a little bit," Jones admitted not long after making the save, her fifth of the game.
Added Hardy, "She did what she was supposed to do. She came out and she got (the ball). She saved us."
Other than those two chances late in the game, it was a back-and-forth affair in which neither team really managed to take the upper hand.
"There were times when we had the edge, there were times when they had the edge," Houser said. "That's what makes it fun. It was a great match. The result is what it is, but for us looking forward it was a good test and we've had a nice run. This was just an unfortunate outcome."
Johnson, who Houser noted "keeps getting better and better," made 10 saves on 11 shots. The loss snapped a four-game unbeaten streak for the hosts, who fell to 7-7-2 overall and 6-5-1 in league.
It was the strong Falconer goaltending and defense, coupled with a few passes that were not quite where they needed to be to facilitate a score, that led to Southwestern's scoreless output, Houser said.
"(Falconer) was playing tight in the box," he explained. "We did have a couple of chances but we didn't place them right where we needed to. (Falconer) is a good team, a tough defensive team, and we knew goals were going to be at a premium."