Patrick O’Leary thought Fairfield High School sharpshooter Morgan White was about to tie the Indians’ Division I regional girls soccer semifinal against Loveland with a dramatic goal in the 79th minute Tuesday night.
White, the Greater Miami Conference’s leading scorer, was open with the ball in front of the net, the exact same play on which she had scored an FHS goal in the 61st minute.
This time, Lauren Parker had other ideas.
The Tigers’ senior goalkeeper raced out to meet White 10 yards in front of the Loveland goal and was in time to make a sliding deflection of the junior forward’s shot, preserving Loveland’s lead in its 2-1 win over Fairfield at Mason.
“It was so close,” the Fairfield coach said.
Loveland got goals from senior striker-midfielder Kaitlyn Andrews in the 46th minute and junior defender-midfielder Alyson Yeager in the 51st minut,e and Parker made them stand up to end an injury-riddled Fairfield season that included a GMC championship and the Indians’ deepest postseason run since 2004.
“That’s what makes it so hard,” an emotional O’Leary said. “These girls have gone through so much that I wanted them to experience success. They deserved it. They bonded. We became a family. They’re like my daughters. I’m fortunate to have two daughters, but I really have 21.”
Loveland (19-1), the No. 2 team in the Ohio Scholastic Coaches Association D-I statewide poll, plays sixth-ranked Springboro for the regional championship on Saturday.
Fairfield (15-4-1) just missed its first trip to a regional final since 1998. Springboro completed a semifinal sweep of GMC teams with a 2-0 win over Mason at Monroe.
Andrews gave Loveland a 1-0 lead on a shot just inside the left upright off senior strike-midfielder Colleen Swift’s assist with 34:39 left in the second half. Indians senior goalkeeper Maiya Caldwell got a hand on the ball, but not enough to stop the shot.
O’Leary was given a yellow card after the goal for arguing too vehemently that the Tigers never should have had possession of the ball. It appeared to some to go out of bounds off a Loveland player 10 yards to the LHS end of Fairfield’s sideline.
“They did not make the call, so it wasn’t out,” he said, pointing out the Tigers still had to make a great play to cash in on the decision. “What a finish. It was textbook.”
Yeager increased Loveland’s lead to 2-0 in the 51st minute on a 15-yard shot with Caldwell screened by a crowd of players.
White cut the lead in half with her 18th goal of the season with 19:50 left in the game.
“Down 2-0, I knew we would keep battling,” O’Leary said. “What a brutal game.”
Loveland dominated time of possession for most of the first 20 minutes, piling up a 4-1 advantage in shots in goal, including one that Caldwell tipped off the crossbar in the eighth minute. The Indians adjusted and exerted more control in the second 20 minutes, evening up by halftime the shots on goal at four each. Each team had one corner kick before the half ended in a scoreless tie.
“They’re very fast, and they have good size,” O’Leary said ofthe Tigers. “We were able to weather their barrage. I was so pleased with how hard (the Indians) played.”