STRONGSVILLE — With 2 minutes of halftime left Monday night, Wadsworth’s girls soccer team was already on the field.
After the first half the Grizzlies played, they didn’t want to get off it.
A three-goal explosion in a span of 11 minutes and a scrappy defensive effort in the second half gave way to Wadsworth’s 3-2 upset of state-ranked Strongsville.
“We were just turned up to play,” senior midfielder Brooke Braman said. “I think the way we played in the first half helped us so much for what we needed in the second half. We knew we could do it.”
Wadsworth (9-2-1) did just that by not only beating the No. 6 team in the state coaches association Division I poll, but taking the game to it from the opening whistle.
What sparked the burst of energy?
Was it the Grizzlies’ 10-1 loss to the Mustangs a year ago on their home turf or the two one-goal losses two weeks ago against district rivals Medina and Copley?
Or maybe was it all the naysayers who said they had zero chance Monday night?
The answer to each of those questions was a resounding “Yes.”
“I don’t know (what it was). I hate to say they took us lightly, but we came with a lot of attitude and leave it out on the field, win over lose, and not let what happened last year happen again,” Wadsworth coach Paul Williford said. “Earlier in the week, we were thinking of changing our formation a little bit to try to put more pressure of their outside backs because they use them so well. But then I said, ‘You know what? We’re going to play our game, play our formation and not change anything up. We’re just going to have to work.”’
That early work paid off big time, as the Grizzlies smacked the Mustangs in the mouth with a goal 12 minutes in when Braman played the ball ahead to a streaking Courtney Palange, who fired it in from about 15 yards.
“We knew this was going to be our toughest game for the whole year, and, obviously, we were all nervous, but we knew what we had to do out there,” Braman said. “We had to work our hardest to get there and we got there. It feels great.
“We all worked hard for this and it paid off.”
Braman and Sarah Berger then connected on two of the Grizzlies’ six corner kicks in the first half.
Berger played a perfect ball to the center of the box that Braman headed past goalkeeper Samantha Ortenzi (5 saves) just 3 minutes after the Palange goal.
Minutes later, enough space was cleared for the Berger-to-Braman connection to strike again.
“Sarah just knows where to put the ball,” said Braman, who now has seven goals for the season. “We practice those corners almost every practice. Usually I mistime it and it goes over or someone else has a direct shot, but I saw the ball and I knew what we all had to do out there. I had to try my hardest to help out the team.”
Strongsville’s Kelly Novak scored late in the first half to stop some of that momentum, and the Mustangs came out of the locker room inspired.
Strongsville peppered the Wadsworth end with 11 total shot attempts in the final half alone. Six were on goal.
After Novak found the back of the net for the second time with 16:39 remaining, Grizzlies senior Hannah Centea took over.
The goalkeeper stopped five attempts, but, more importantly, knocked numerous crosses off line and snagged a handful of other balls midair.
She did it all while trying not to look at the clock.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” Centea said with a smile. “I kept looking back and it was counting down and I kept telling myself ‘OK, don’t look for 10 minutes.’
“It was hard, but I will give all the credit to my defensive line because if it wasn’t for them, I don’t think it would’ve been the way it was.”
In the final 13 minutes alone, Centea knocked one try with her outstretch hand, another off her chest and one diving to her left. The final save came by batting away a Novak shot from about 10 feet away with 6:45 left to all but ice the win.
“Just don’t let the ball in. That’s my goal,” the modest Centea said. “I don’t care what happens. It doesn’t go in that goal.”
Combine Centea with numerous clear-outs from the backline and the rest of Wadsworth’s midfield and it was enough to send the Mustangs away stunned.
“This is awesome for the program and definitely for these girls that have been here four years and for our seniors that have struggled the last couple of years against them and got creamed by them last year,” Williford said. “For us to rebound like this is huge.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.