For 79 minutes, it was a frustrating night in front of goal for the Ashland girls soccer team.
Then, at long last, the breakthrough happened Tuesday night at Dutch Meyer Field.
Senior forward Brianna Gibbs saw her initial breakaway shot saved by Crater goalkeeper Addison Vranes but not the second as second-ranked Ashland was able to break a scoreless deadlock with less than a minute remaining for a 1-0 win in Midwestern League action.
“Sometimes you just have to be patient before you get that breakthrough,” Ashland head coach Eric Wolff said with a laugh, noting how the Grizzlies pushed that patience about as far as they could. “We created enough offense to get 20 shots, so we had enough opportunities but just not enough pressing opportunities.”
The scoring sequence began with the ball at the feet of midfielder Ini Hammond, who sent a perfectly placed through ball in between a pair of Crater defenders and right into the path of Gibbs as she made a run in behind the defense.
Gibbs took one touch and then tried to place the ball past the onrushing Vranes, but the Comets’ keeper was able to save the initial shot with her right leg. The problem was that the rebound went rolling right back into the path of Gibbs, who had a wide open goal to shoot into with her left foot to give the Grizzlies (6-0-1, 1-0-1 MWL) their long-sought lead.
“I changed my lineup at the half a little bit because Ini felt like she had a lot of room to cover in the middle and got stuck with her defensive duties,” said Wolff. “She was able to concentrate a little more on her offensive duties and was able to find Bri on that through ball by exploiting the space that Crater gave us. Bri was able to exploit that space behind their right defender and got the perfectly-timed pass from Ini.”
The last-minute goal was the lone blemish on what was a great night in goal for Vranes, who unofficially had 12 saves against Ashland.
The much busier of the two goalkeepers on the night, Vranes stopped virtually everything that came her way.
That included a 10-minuute span midway through the first half in which she made four big saves for Crater (3-6-1, 0-1-1), including the fourth and final one coming when she rushed off her line to deny Lena Caballero Uhtoff from just inside the penalty area.
“I truly think that Addie is the best goalkeeper in the state,” said Crater head coach Bryton Kiger. “She is just fearless, she’s tenacious, she comes out on 1-on-1s and rarely loses them. She said after the game, ‘I thought (Gibbs) was going to go one way, so I started to lunge that way and she went the other and that was on me.’ I think that she’s the best that there is and we’re lucky to have her.”
“She was crucial to making it a close game,” added Wolff regarding Vranes’ play in goal. “She definitely earned it and provided what Crater needed in this game. I told her at the end that she had a great game because she definitely deserved the kudos after that.”
Crater nearly took a 1-0 lead with less than a minute to go before halftime when Kallie Michaelis saw her header in the box go off the top of the crossbar.
But as the second half went on, Ashland was able to dominate possession, as Crater’s handful of scoring chances came on the counterattack.
“I don’t have a singular goal scorer, but we have a variety of players that can all score,” said Kiger. “In the games we’re able to get opportunities, we have a number of girls that put the ball in the net, which is a treat.”
Grizzlies keeper Esme Barnes, who had to briefly exit last Thursday’s scoreless draw with North Eugene after being bloodied on a late stop, finished with a pair of saves.
Ashland recorded its sixth shutout in seven games this season, with Wolff heaping praise on his entire defensive unit. Celia Bertrand also had an impact on both ends of the field while playing out wide, according to Wolff.
“The whole defense did a great job shutting things down,” he said.
For Crater, Addison Dippel — who has been a Swiss Army knife of sorts this season — had a strong game in the center of defense, while sophomore Ella Heppner played well in midfield and Kamdyn Johnson was dangerous out on the wing.
“I think we did a good job,” Kiger said of the Comets’ defense. “We tried something unconventional knowing Ashland was going to come at us hard.”
Both teams will be in action this Saturday, with Ashland hosting Churchill and Crater traveling to face North Eugene.
“We haven’t been playing as effectively as we can or we should be, so sometimes you have to grind out a win and move on to the next game,” said Wolff. “We need to just get fully focused and get the next league game on Saturday going and hopefully get back in the swing of things again. We had a tough week with a lot of girls being sick and having to cancel the game up north (against West Linn on Oct. 1), so it feels like we’re just trying to get back in our rhythm again after that.”
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.
Ashland players celebrats after Brianna Gibbs’ game-winning goal in the final minute of the second half at Dutch Meyer Field in Central Point Teusday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Ashland’s Brianna Gibbs shoots to score the game-winning goal in the final minute of the second half at Dutch Meyer Field in Central Point Tuesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Ashland’s Lena Caballero Uhtoff gets stopped by Crater goalkeeper Addison Vranes during the first half at Dutch Meyer Field in Central Point Tuesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Ashland’s Brianna Gibbs and Crater’s Joslyn Sizemore battle for the ball during the second half at Dutch Meyer Field in Central Point Tuesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Crater’s Annie Idiart and Ashland’s Luna Gutierrez Langer battle for the ball during the second half at Dutch Meyer Field in Central Point Tuesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Ashland’s Ini Hammond, right, and Crater’s Autumn Jackson battle to the ball from the air during the second half at Dutch Meyer Field in Central Point Tuesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]