Lebanon girls edge Fairfield for sectional soccer crown

Lily Welch plays the ball up the field for Fairfield as Divya Patel applies pressure for Lakota West during their Division I sectional semifinal last Saturday at Fairfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY JOHN CUMMINGS

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Lily Welch plays the ball up the field for Fairfield as Divya Patel applies pressure for Lakota West during their Division I sectional semifinal last Saturday at Fairfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY JOHN CUMMINGS

Going into their Division I prep girls soccer sectional championship match on Tuesday, Fairfield and Lebanon were trying to end long droughts without reaching the next level.

Fairfield hadn’t played in a district championship game since 2012. Lebanon’s absence was two years longer.

The Indians will have to wait until next year. Lebanon used a noticeable size and experience advantage to maintain pressure on Fairfield for most of the second half, and it paid off in a 2-1 Warrior win at Lakota East.

“We grow ’em sort of small in Fairfield,” Indians coach Patrick O’Leary said ruefully after the game. “That’s one thing we knew they’d have an advantage in. We knew they had set pieces. We just wanted to hold the wall, but the dam cracked a little bit. We had some mental lapses. It came down to one play.”

The Warriors had eight seniors to Fairfield’s one, but it was freshman Jenna Barnes who made the difference. The midfielder got free with the ball, made a deft move to shake a defender and bounced a shot off of junior goalkeeper Maiya Caldwell’s right arm from 15 yards out 76:09 into the game.

“We had trouble getting back, and she did a good job finding the back of the net,” O’Leary said.

Junior defender Madison Lindsay also scored for Lebanon (12-5-1), which will play St. Ursula for a district title Saturday night at Madeira.

Sophomore midfielder Lily Welch scored the only goal for Fairfield (13-3-2).

O’Leary suspects Lebanon’s senior class gave the Warriors an edge.

“They have some very talented seniors,” he pointed out. “Seniors push underclassmen. Our girls played like it could be their last game, but seniors can give you that extra edge.”

Lebanon, which had won its tournament opener and lost its second game in each of the last five seasons, was coming off a 5-0 win over Hamilton. The Warriors had lost their last two and three of their last four regular-season matches.

Fairfield was riding a four-match winning streak and had won seven of its last eight matches with one tie since a 4-1 Greater Miami Conference loss to Oak Hills.

The teams spent the first 10 minutes feeling each other out before Fairfield started putting some pressure on the Warriors. Junior forward Cierra Crosby was wide right on two shots from 15 yards out before Welch connected on a high arcing shot from the left wing that nestled into the upper right corner of the goal 14:56 into the first half.

The Warriors tied the score just more than 10 minutes later, at the 25:18 mark of the half, on Lindsay’s laser beam of a shot on a direct kick from 45 yards out.

Lebanon put together a flurry of throw-ins and corner kicks midway through the secon half, but Caldwell — for the second time in the game — made a leaping save and knocked the ball off the crossbar to temporarily stave off the Warriors.

The Indians almost took a lead in the 65th minute on junior forward-defender Taylor Stroud’s low line drive off a feed from Crosby, but Lebanon sophomore goalkeeper Ashley West made a diving save.

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