Tuesday was a special night for the Bulldogs.
The No. 8 seeded Athens Bulldogs opened their OHSAA Tournament play vying against the No. 9 seeded McClain Tigers. It was the first time in five years that the Bulldogs earned home-field advantage in a tournament game and the first time they’ve secured a victory.
They won big, outscoring the Tigers 9-0.
The Bulldogs opened the game with authority, possessing the ball and ripping shots on goal within the first two minutes. At the 8-minute mark, Bulldog defender, Kateyanne Walburn popped a ball up to Annie Moulton on the front line. Moulton tapped it central to Osha Backus. Backus faked left, dribbled right around the defender, and nailed the shot into the lower left corner of the net.
Just five minutes later, Moulton registered a corner kick into the Tiger’s box. It was brought to the ground by Chloe Clevenger on the near side of the goal and dished diagonally to Bella Sutton. Sutton sent a back pass to Moulton who was at the side line. Moulton launched the ball, sending it just over the hands of the Tigers keeper, bringing the score to 2-0.
Throughout the first half, the Bulldogs’ defensive line represented a wall that the Tigers could not penetrate. Julia Dick pressed high and intercepted several attempted through balls by the Tigers. Ava Kristofco chased down the long balls preventing any developing play.
The Bulldogs continued to pepper the Tigers’ keeper with shots from all angles. Before the half was over, the Bulldogs secured three more goals. Two of these were acquired by Karma Fugate, one after stealing the ball from a defender and punching it in the lower right corner and the other on an assist from Tess Wilhelm, which Fugate chipped just over the goalie’s hands.
Backus also picked up another goal before the half, trapping a 50-50 ball, and out dribbling her opponent to obtain the fifth goal of the game.
The Bulldogs outshot the Tiger 17-2 in the first half. Kayla Hammonds, the Bulldogs goal keeper, had two saves but otherwise was well protected by her back line.
The second half was equally exciting for Bulldogs fans. They watched Backus and Fugate each earn a hat trick. They also witnessed the Bulldogs offense string together perfectly-executed plays.
For example, Quinn Murphy placed a throw in precisely at the feet of Tess Wilhelm. Wilhelm centered the ball to Bella Sutton who formed a triangle with Wilhelm and Murphy. Sutton passed it back outside to Murphy to keep the defense on the chase, and Murphy one-touched it right back to Sutton who was wide open in front of the net. With a skillful tap, Sutton added to the scoreboard.
Moulton, the top scoring Bulldog for the season, also secured one more goal on a cross from Wynne Dodrill.
The Tigers fought gallantly through the final whistle but they simply struggled to maintain possession long enough to gain any traction.
It was a celebration for the seniors, Osha Backus, Karma Fugate, Ava Kristofco, Rachel Odunaiya and Paavni Rao, as this was their last game at Joe Burrow stadium. Backus expressed “this was amazing since we have never won a tournament game in our high school career.”
Odunaiya shared that her favorite part was, “when Osha and Karma got their hat tricks.”
Rao acknowledged that “we had outstanding support from the bench. Every player came on and off the field and scoring nine goals feels great!”
Coach Jason Schroer reflected that “it all came together, tonight. You wait for that moment in the season where it all clicks. What better time than in tournament play to have that happen.”
The Bulldogs travel on Thursday to play the No. 1 seed, Fairfield Union, at 5 p.m. in a Division II sectional final.