The Athens Bulldogs improved their record on Monday night with a 3-0 win over visiting Logan Elm. After struggling to find their footing recently, the Bulldogs were able to secure a foothold and demonstrate that recent changes and adjustments were coming together.
Coaches and fans awaited the opening whistle, eager to see if the Bulldogs would continue the improvement that they had shown in their most recent games. It appeared that it was not to be, as the Bulldogs showed a lack of unity and were struggling to put together plays. As the old adage goes, things are not always what they seem, and this game would prove that to be true. Quick substitutions and strategy sessions on the sidelines by the Bulldog coaching staff enabled Athens to recover from the slow start.
The ball covered the entire field as both teams battled between the goals, neither able to gain enough ground to get off a clean shot. The Bulldog defense refused to give the middle turf to the Braves, either forcing the ball to the sidelines or turning it away.
Sophia Atherton and Ava Kristofco solidly locked down the center of the field, while Julia Dick and Isley Newton forced the Braves to the sideline throughout the match. The Bulldog offense of Angela Owens, Kella Rice,and Kendra Hammonds kept up the pressure throughout the first half, but could not find a clear path to the goal.
In the 23rd minute of the first half, an infraction brought Atherton forward to take the kick. The ball sailed into the Braves goalbox, with Hammonds hot on it’s heels. As Hammonds drew back to shoot, Logan Elm Keeper Olivia Adams snagged the ball just inches away from Hammonds’ foot. The Bulldogs were turned away yet again.
The crowd consigned to go into halftime with a blank sheet. However, with little more than a minute remaining, Bulldog keeper Nikki Bean scooped up a long ball from the Braves front line and sent a punt past half field that took a high bounce over the Logan Elm defense and found forward Osha Backus in a dead sprint up the center. After clearing two Logan Elm defenders, Backus made a blistering run straight towards the goal to fire a low rocket past Adams. With the crowd erupting, Athens went into halftime up 1-0.
The Bulldogs returned to the pitch determined to improve the score. The team found their synergy and dominated the play in the early part of the second half. Just ninety seconds in, a cross from deep in the corner connected with midfielder Elena Delach driving towards the goal. Delach would be denied the goal from a soaring header only by the last second save from Adams. Midfielders Chloe Clevenger and Kyla Kinnard, along with Delach dominated the center of the field, distributing ball after ball, as the Braves strained to regain control.
The Bulldogs had found their groove and the excitement in the stands built as the fans felt it would only be a matter of time until the score would be 2-0. Backus used her lightning speed to break free of the Logan Elm defense on the right side and drive deep into the corner. A seamless pass to the top of the box targeted an incoming Tess Wilhelm who powered the ball into the back of the net. With thirty one minutes still to play, the Bulldogs were up 2-0.
The score would remain stagnant for the next twenty seven minutes, as both teams turned away drive attempts. Bean would come away with only five saves for the night, a testament to her team’s defense, and the work that the offense was putting in, keeping the ball on the Braves’ half of the field most of the latter half of the game.
With only four minutes remaining on the clock, in what must have seemed like deja vu to Logan Elm, Backus set up a similar scene, as she broke free of the defense and sped deep into the corner, only to cut back at the last second to the top of the box where Wilhelm was waiting, once again. Wilhelm buried the ball in the back of the net, and the Bulldogs were at 3-0. The Bulldogs fought right up to the final buzzer to come away with the win and shutout.
When she was asked if she saw Wilhelm at the top of the box, Backus replied “I knew there was somebody there every time, so I knew where to put it.”
Wilhelm humbly gave much credit to Backus for the goals, “Osha’s runs were amazing, as were her crosses. I think the whole team definitely pulled it together and played really well tonight. Even though it was tough competition, Osha played a really big role in the win.” Proving that the players can sometimes see the game just as clearly as the fans, Backus described the two halves of the game; “I feel like after the first half we played more like a team. In the first half we were playing more for ourselves, but it worked so much better playing as a team.”
Coach Schroer was “...very happy with tonight’s effort and outcome. We started slow but kept working our game plan and it all came together in the second half. Our goal is to get better each week and finish the season strong.”
The Bulldog junior varsity claimed a victory as well, with a 2-0 win. Both goals scored by Bella Sutton for the Bulldogs. Goalkeeper Patty Yandrich earned a shutout.
The Bulldogs record stands at 2-5-0 as they prepare to travel to Warren on Thursday.