GIRLS SOCCER: Athens withstands Eisenhower's pressure to claim first regional since 2000 | North Oakland Sports

GIRLS SOCCER: Athens withstands Eisenhower’s pressure to claim first regional since 2000

| June 5, 2015 | Comments (0)



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TROY — Every time Elyse Merbach walks into Troy Athens’ gymnasium, she and her teammates are constantly reminded of multiple great teams in the school’s soccer history.

This year’s Red Hawks are trying to live up to that lore — and are doing a pretty good job at it.

Athens added to its list of accomplishments this year and to its storied soccer history, tripping up Utica Eisenhower, 2-0, Friday night at Troy High in a Division 1 regional final featuring two state powerhouse teams.

Merbach scored what proved to be the game-winner, Karli Filips also scored and Ashley Leonard drew a pair of assists in the second half as the Red Hawks (16-4-4) avenged an earlier 2-1 defeat to the Eagles to claim their first regional title since 2000.

“We have a lot to prove,” said Merbach. “(Athens) has a lot of championships over the years. We’ve got three this year (league, district, regional) and we would like to add one more.”

Athens, which entered the tournament ranked fifth, advanced to the Final Four and will face Grand Blanc at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Rochester High School for a right to go to the state championship match. Eisenhower, last year’s state runner-up which carries several college-bound players, finished the campaign 16-3-2.

“It’s been a long time. I believe since 2000,” said fourth-year Athens coach Todd Heugh. “Our girls fought and fought and, even though Eisenhower had a lot of talent, we found a way to score a couple of foals to win a regional championship.”

With a stiff wind at the backs, Eisenhower controlled play during the first half. The Eagles outshot Athens 9-1 over the first 40 minutes, including 7-1 with shots directly on frame, but could not beat the Red Hawks stingy defense anchored by goalkeeper Amanda Harris even with the wind advantage.

The junior was quite active in patrolling the box, collecting nine total saves for her 14th shutout of the season. Eisenhower held a 12-6 overall shots edge for the game, including 9-4 with shots on goal, and even had three first-half corner kicks but to avail.

“She was third-team All-State last season,” reminded Heugh. “She doesn’t get rattled back there. We’ve played teams like Saline, Brighton, (Detroit) Country Day, (Rochester) Stoney Creek, (Utica) Ford. We’ve played some good teams this season. That’s what All-State keeper do.”

Harris and the Red Hawks shut off one of Michigan’s top offensive teams.

“We had a ton of chances. I think we had something like seven shots on goal in the first half to their one and we didn’t score. It’s as simple as that,” said Eisenhower coach Merhrdad Nekoogar. “When you don’t score you don’t win. I don’t care how many chances you have. The best team doesn’t always win. I think we know who the better team was tonight. But when you don’t score…”

Athens converted on two of its three chances in the second half.

After escaping out of the first half in a 0-0 deadlock, Berbach notched her goal with 27:19 to play. Ashley Leonard’s line drive corner kick sailed into the penalty box and Berbach knocked in the ball during a wild goal-mouth scrum.

Leonard set up the helper on the insurance goal which came with 10:11 remaining, beating her mark down the right side and chipping a shot to the middle to an on racing Filips, who laced shot into the corner of the goal to cap the scoring.

“We certainly knew, and we told our kids, that (Eisenhower) has a ton of talent. They can attack and they have a great bunch of players,” said Athens coach Todd Heugh. “We got to halftime tied and I said, ‘let’s regroup. You got outplayed, but you’re 0-0. They are playing with a really deep (back) line right now and we’ve got a girl with 26 goals. We can still win this.’”

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