GIRLS SOCCER: Athens slips past Berkley to reach district finals

| May 29, 2015 | Comments (0)




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TROY — Survive and advance.

That’s the name of the game this time of year as the state tournament takes place on the soccer pitch.

Troy Athens is still alive and well in the postseason, as the fifth-ranked Red Hawks continued to advance through the state tournament with a 3-1 victory Thursday over visiting Berkley in a Division 1 district semifinal.

Athens outshot the pesky Bears by a 13-3 margin, including 8-3 with shots directly on frame, and even held a 7-1 edge on corner kicks. But it wasn’t until the waning seconds that the Red Hawks found enough breathing room.

“We knew that it could be close. Berkley plays hard and when they had the chance they made it a close game,” said Athens coach Todd Heugh. “I liked the way we worked hard the whole game. the game was one play away from being tied. We had to keep working.”

Ashley Leonard, one of the state’s top sophomore prospects, finished off a feed from senior midfielder Shannon Birney with 32:35 still to play in the first half to put Athens into the 1-0 lead.

Athens (13-4-4) built a two-goal cushion with 30:01 remaining in the contest when junior Elyse Merbach volleyed home a corner kick from junior Silvanna Mancini.

Leonard capped the scoring in the 80th minute, as she collect a free ball near midfield, then charged off to the races before depositing a breakaway goal into the net with one second left for her OAA-leading 22nd marker of the season.

“I thought the early goal helped. We controlled play in the first half. But then I think Berkley got into a rhythm a little bit, they tried to knock it around and they scored on us,” recalled Huegh. “We talked about playing stronger in the midfield to deter that because it seemed like Berkley was playing with five midfielders at times. I think once they scored to make it 2-1 we picked it back up and carried play. But I never felt comfortable until the end when Ashley scored in the last few seconds.”

Athens, which captured the coveted OAA Red Division crown this season, the first of many hopeful championships the talented Red Hawks have on their agenda, will play another day. Athens will face rival Troy at 11 a.m. Saturday for the district title.

The Red Hawks will be aiming for their third district title in five seasons.

“We work so hard as a team and we play for each other,” said Leonard. “I think we have the talent to go far.”

Berkley, which finished the campaign 8-10-2, put a scare into Athens. The Bears scored off their first shot of the game when freshmen Meghan West ran onto a service from senior Rylie Murray with 26:50 to play in the contest, which cut the deficit down to 2-1.

Berkley nearly tired the game 76 seconds later, although junior Gabrielle Blatz’s close-range shot was stopped cold by Athens junior goalkeeper Amanda Harris.

:We do a great job of transitioning,” said Berkley coach Matt Brezynski. “Our formation is set up for that transition. We might not get a lot of chances against a team like Athens, but we do get numbers in behind the ball and we’ve got players who can finish. We had a couple of chances today and we were inches away from tying the game.”

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