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Falcons edge West Branch in girls soccer

BELOIT — One shot. That’s all it takes sometimes to win a soccer match.

That’s what can be taken away from a game in which the undefeated OSSCA Division II seventh-ranked West Branch Warriors girls soccer team had eight shots on goal, while the Austintown Fitch Falcons had just two.

But it was Bailey Baker’s direct free kick with 5:37 remaining in the first half that ended up deciding the game in the Falcons’ 1-0 victory Saturday afternoon.

“It’s what we’ve been looking for in the first half,” Fitch coach Samantha Marscio said. “We want to be that first half team. We want to be the one that’s up at halftime and go from there.”

It’s been a role reversal for the Falcons as they’ve won their fourth straight after starting the season 0-5-1.

“We’ve really come a long way from those first couple of games,” Marscio said. “We had a strong schedule coming out of the gate after the summer we had. We really learned to kind of find our balance throughout and we’ve overcome that hump that comes halfway through the season. I think this definitely shows what kind of team we could have been from the start.”

For West Branch (8-1-2) , they were seemingly on Fitch’s side of the field all afternoon, but the Falcons’ defenders were a nuisance that halted a lot of the success the Warriors were having at centerfield.

“We were on that part of the field a lot,” West Branch coach Cheryl Ficco said. “It was that final breakthrough to get in to take a quality shot on goal that we were missing today. We were able to control, control, press, press, press, but inside the box we were having a hard time getting it into the net today.

“I felt the girls, especially in the second half, came out with the intensity and the intention to get the equalizer and the go-ahead goal. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to break through in the box.”

Ficco said she thought that Fitch was a team that steps hard to the ball. She felt her team had to neutralize that, which they were able to do in the second half.

“I thought we did a better job of that in the second half,” she said. “First half, they were stepping in front of us a lot. I thought we actually did a much better job in the second half of getting to the ball and being able to clean it up. There was just a lot of pressure and congestion on the back edge of the box.”

Before the Fitch backline became an issue, the Warriors had a near-goal less than six minutes into the contest when Emma Egli put the ball on the corner. She slotted the ball back and there were strikers there but the Warriors couldn’t connect on the goal.

“The beginning of the game, we had that one,” Ficco said. “It could have been a different game.”

West Branch’s Alexis Gregory had a near-goal midway through the second half that almost tied the game, but goalkeeper Kristen Klaus stopped that threat.

Instead, it became a frustrating afternoon for West Branch as its defense did enough to give the Warriors a chance, but from Klaus’ stops and the Falcons center backs, it was like kicking at a brick wall for the Warriors.

“Kristen really has been looking strong the last few games and being able to gain some of those high balls,” Marscio said. “She’s able to pay attention to her body language and have some great games.

“We’ve really worked on that possession through that back line. We told them to stay strong today and work through that to gain that possession to work up the field. We knew it was going to be a pretty tough game. We just really tried to fine tune some of the things we knew we needed to attack on.”

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