CANFIELD - For almost 20 minutes of the Division II district final between Lakeview and Canfield on Thursday night, the Bulldogs executed the gameplan laid out by coach Shawn Varley perfectly.
The Bulldogs kept the Cardinal offense mostly in check, snuffing out most dangerous passes and even taking a lead in the 15th minute through an Abby Pavlik goal.
"One of the key things that we practiced was cutting off passing lanes instead of chasing the ball," Varley said. "For the first 20 minutes, we were working really well at cutting off passing lanes."
The problem for Varley and Lakeview was that the wheels fell off right after that. Canfield woke up following a slow start to score six unanswered goals in a 6-1 rout of Lakeview, clinching the program's third-consecutive and fourth district title in the past five years.
The Pavlik goal jumpstarted the Cardinals (14-2-3), who hadn't fallen behind in the tournament up to that point, and Canfield responded by scoring two goals in the 19th and 20th minutes to take a lead they did not relinquish.
"It wasn't a good way to start," senior co-captain Paige Bidinotto said. "We started off really, really slow. We were a little nervous, just didn't play how we usually do, but then we all picked it up as a team. We came back and did what we had to do."
The Division II Youngstown district player of the year, Bidinotto played a huge role in the win. The senior forward scored three goals, including the first Canfield goal in the 19th minute when she curled a shot into the upper lefthand corner of the net, and added an assist.
Bidinotto dealt with a back injury through parts of the season, and Canfield coach Phil Simone said the team struggled during that time. On Thursday, however, the team clicked on all cylinders.
"She's really turned it on during the tournament, feeling a lot better," Simone said. "When she plays well, we play well. Her effort tonight was unreal. She puts everything into it."
Once the Cardinals got rolling, the Bulldogs (14-4-1) saw very little of the ball, which was what Simone wanted his team to do from the start.
The Cardinals were well aware of the threat that Lakeview goal-scorer Alli Pavlik posed, and the best way to neutralize her was to have a monopoly on possession, which the Cardinals accomplished for the final 60 minutes of the match. This forced Alli Pavlik and fellow forward Rachel Braunegg to drop deeper and deeper into the midfield to get the ball, and Simone said he was content with the senior forward drifting away from the net.
"Alli Pavlik has been a threat to teams all year, and she is a phenomenal player," Simone said. "When she doesn't have the ball, she can't score. That was part of the gameplan, keep the ball away from her and keep her chasing."
Although Lakeview loses Alli Pavlik and senior co-captain Sydny Paul, Varley and Co. have plenty of reasons for a positive outlook past this year, as the Bulldogs started five freshman for most of the season.
"Thinking back to the beginning of the year, I never would have thought that we'd gain that experience throughout the year and make it to this point," Varley said. "I was always hopeful, and I'm really proud that we did that - gained a lot of experience for years to come."
As for Canfield, the Cardinals are eyeing the chance to be the first area girls team to make it to the state final four. While Simone and Bidinotto said it will be tough, starting with a regional semifinal against Revere on Tuesday at Ravenna High School, Bidinotto is confident the Cardinals can achieve that goal.
"We're working hard to get there, and we know we have the potential," Bidinotto said. "If you work hard and play like we know we can play, we can get there."