WARREN - Monday night's girls soccer game between Warren G. Harding and Niles was a matchup between two teams that were seeking to get its games in top shape as the regular season comes to an end and the postseason begins.
The Raiders played a crisper, tighter game on both offense and defense and earned a 3-1 victory at Mollenkopf Stadium.
"Obviously, it's a very aggressive game," Harding coach Diane Hernandez said. "It always is with Niles. They're a good team. They've got good players and it was just a very hard-fought, aggressive game. Our girls did a good job."
"Just came out very slowly," Niles coach Jennifer Burin said.
Niles (8-5-2) had the best early chances at scoring the first goal, as 12 minutes into the game Casey Sudzina got behind the Harding defense on a through ball but Harding goalkeeper Kate Lacy beat her to the ball.
The Raiders' Aminah Wesley had two first-half chances at scoring. With 25 minutes left in the first half she broke away from the Niles defense but goalie Paige Freele dove for the ball and cradled it to her body to prevent Wesley from getting a shot off. One minute later, Wesley just missed a header as the ball was sent across the goal mouth on a corner kick.
Harding (10-2-3) broke through with 15:13 left in the first half as Emily Stone drove a shot that hit off the left post. Jackie Callow swooped in and scored before the defense could recover.
Callow added her second goal of the game at 3:38 when she finished in a crowd of bodies out front of the Niles goal, making the score 2-0 heading into halftime.
The Red Dragons came out more aggressively in the second 40 minutes, but the Harding defense continued to keep them away from the goal and off the scoreboard.
With 27 minutes remaining in the game, Niles' Taylor Stewart and Harding's Allison Hernandez collided at midfield and each was yellow carded. Hernandez received a second yellow with 13:30 to play, forcing the Raiders to play one person down for the rest of the game.
"It's not a red card, it's just a double yellow, thank God," said Diane Hernandez, who added that because it wasn't a red card that Allison Hernandez will be able to play in the next game.
Any chance of victory that Niles had ended at the 27:18 mark, as Marisa Limperos hit a free kick at the goal and Markie Marousis put the ball past Freele to make it 3-0.
"I think all of our girls played really well," Hernandez said. "Our midfield did great. Marisa Limperos had a great game. Allison Hernandez had a good game, Sarah Rich had a good game. Our defense did great. Emily Stevens, Kristina Marino, Katie Statema. Anastashia Garrison had a great game. She's one of our defenders. She had a very good game."
Garrison said she was pleased the Harding defense did so well in shutting down the Niles offense.
"They were good," she said. "They were quite pushy and it was good to just work as a team, as a unit to just stop them."
The Red Dragons avoided being shut out at 23:29. In a scramble out in front of the net, Rachel Miketa was able to score on a rebound to cut the deficit to 3-1.