WELLINGTON — It was just two seasons ago, but many of the Buckeye girls soccer players remember it like it was yesterday.
The Bucks returned to the same Wellington field where they suffered their first all-time Patriot Athletic Conference loss in 2011. They were able to erase those bitter memories Wednesday with a 1-0 grind-it-out win.
“This feels amazing,” senior defender Heather Thomas said with a smile. “It’s my senior year, and it’s just an amazing feeling. It was a tough game, but we stuck our ground.”
The Bucks (8-1-1, 5-0-1) earned crucial breathing room over the rival Dukes (4-4-1, 3-1) in the Stars Division standings with four games to play.
They did it by switching to a 4-3-3 formation to provide a better defensive wall and leave center midfielder Norah Barnes room to create.
The move paid off, as Buckeye surrendered just one shot on goal that was easily stopped by goalkeeper Hannah Stacy, and spent most of the game taking the ball at a Wellington squad that had just 14 players in uniform.
“We actually changed our formation because (Wellington) was playing everybody so deep,” said Bucks coach Bud Roberts, whose team dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Dukes two years ago. “We wanted to put more pressure up and more control in the middle and just tried to work the ball that way.
“Wellington is a well-coached team and they do a good job. I thought everybody stepped up when we needed. I was pleased. That’s a big hurdle for us for the conference.”
After uncorking 10 shot attempts — six on goal — in the opening 40 minutes, Buckeye cashed in on its first try of the second half when Barnes blasted a shot from 18 yards that Dukes goalie Kayla Sparks (8 saves) knocked down but couldn’t hold on to.
It created an opportunity for freshman Sophie Barnes, who poked the ball away from Sparks on a dead sprint and into the open net.
“I saw that the goalie bobbled some balls earlier, and that was probably just luck that I made that run,” said Sophie Barnes, who has 10 goals. “That was a great shot from Norah, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ That was probably the biggest moment of the game for me because I was like, ‘I have to get this or I’m done.’”
It was a much-needed relief for Buckeye after it had a variety of looks in the first half, including a series late that saw Sophie Barnes fire a rocket that Sparks knocked down to the foot of the Bucks’ Mera Serio, who had her try sail wide. Sophie Barnes had a shot with 16 minutes left in the first, but Sparks made an impressive finger-tip grab.
Sophie Barnes had revenge later and the Bucks defenders and midfielders dug in to make things downright difficult for Wellington over the final 20 minutes.
“We’re struggling offensively and we only have 14 girls, so we don’t have a lot of numbers,” Dukes coach Kevin Ziegler said. “The girls that are here came to play. It wasn’t like we had no chances. We had three or four corner kicks and some attempts, but Buckeye does what it does and they found a way to get a garbage goal.”
Buckeye’s defensive effort made up for those missed chances and frustration early on.
“It was frustration, but for me it was a reassurance that it was on our side,” Sophie Barnes said of the opening half. “But our defense, that was probably the best I’ve ever seen us play together, honestly. It was amazing, and I don’t think we would’ve done that well if we weren’t working together like that.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.