Coming off of a win Thursday night against the Minford Falcons, the Athens Bulldogs played 80 minutes of high energy soccer at Joe Burrow Stadium on Saturday, fighting hard against the Wheelersburg Pirates, whose record is 11 and 2.

Although the 2-2 draw was a bittersweet ending, as this was the last home game in regular season play, the Bulldogs played some of the best soccer of their season. They launched the first half linking together nearly ten passes before the Pirates ever possessed the ball. Before five minutes elapsed on the clock, the eager Bulldogs put one in the back of the net. The ball was served up by defender Julia Dick. A Pirate defender headed the ball, but instead of clearing it, it bounced backward toward the Pirates’ goal, arriving at the feet of Annie Moulton.

Moulton seized the moment, dribbled ten yards toward the goal and propelled the ball across the mouth of the goal. Anticipating the cross, Asa Holcombe was in a full sprint as she popped it into the net.

The Pirates responded with intensity, capturing a few breakaways toward the goal. The first few were interrupted by Ava Kristofco and Julia Dick, who served as a barricade in the Bulldogs defense, chasing down offenders, stealing balls, and preventing shots.

Keeper Kayla Hammonds also showed intensity, saving shots and interrupting crosses by the Pirates. At the 18-minute mark, the Pirates capitalized. A ball was sent from midfield over the heads of the Bulldogs’ defensive line. Pirate forward, Bella Miller, sprinted to it and found herself with the ball, one-on-one with keeper Hammonds. She dribbled to the ten-yard line and made the shot. The shot was too fast to be stopped by Hammonds.

The duel continued in this fashion. Athens had the next series of looks. Osha Backus carried the ball down the field, barreling through the Pirates defensive line, crossed to Wilhelm, but Wilhelm’s shot sailed over the crossbar. Minutes later, Backus returned navigating through Pirate traffic and finding the back of the net to bring the score to 2-1 with 13 minutes remaining in the half.

The Pirates responded, peppering Hammonds with shots. The Bulldogs narrowly held the lead, as the Pirates outshot them 12-5 (Hammonds racked up 11 saves).

The narrative of the second half was all about the struggle for possession. The Pirates pressed the Bulldogs on 50-50 balls, but the Bulldogs’ midfielders Wynne Dodrill and Chloe Clevenger arrested the development of their plays. Fifteen minutes into the half, defender Jo Burtuna showed off her fancy footwork as she stripped her opponent of the ball, made a few cut-moves, and calmly passed the ball up the sideline to midfielder Angela Owens.

Owens cast the ball squarely to Tess Wilhelm who dished it diagonally to Mouton. When Moulton volleyed the ball, the Pirates goaltender fell her to knees to capture the ball. There was debate as to whether it was a goal or not, as it looked like it was caught behind the goal line. However, it was not ruled as a goal.

The Bulldogs almost score again just minutes later. During a corner kick, Moulton dispatched the ball to the far side of the goal mouth where Angela Owens connected on a header, but it pinged off the top cross bar, resulting in a narrow miss. The ball was quickly distributed into the midfield and the Pirates capitalized on the chaos and created a repeat scenario.

They sent another long ball over the heads of the Athens defense. Hammonds found herself caught between defending the from the line and attacking the ball. As she came out to attack, the Pirates forward, Annie Coriell, popped it over Hammonds’ head into the goal for the equalizer, 2-2. It was a harrowing end for Bulldogs fans, as they watched their team mount several opportunities, but simply run out of time to regain the lead.

At the end of the 2-2 game, Coach Jason Schroer congratulated the girls on excellent team play. “Although we had some unlucky events (Moulton’s untallied goal, Owens’ header to the bar), we applied what we learned in practice and this was our best team game yet. We showed our speed. We adjusted throughout the game and ultimately, we outplayed them.”

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