John Erardi and Dan Pilar report:
Only once before had Jill Vetere made this exchange from left foot to right with multiple defenders on her and had it end in a goal.
And she’s been playing soccer for as long as she’s had a memory.
The other time it happened was in a club soccer game, so it doesn’t matter. Not when you are returning to the state high school tournament in Columbus next week, which is the best thing a young athlete can do.
The Mason girls’ 1-0 victory over St. Ursula Saturday afternoon in the regional final at Lakota East High School was as interesting and entertaining of a high school game as one will ever see in any sport because of the way emotion flipped on a dime and the game with it.
“One of our girls said it last year in the state championship game (when Mason outshot its opponent a zillion to one and still lost): ‘Soccer is a dumb game,’ ’’ said Mason coach Andy Schur.
‘‘I’m sure Ursula is going to be thinking that for the next couple of weeks. It’s a brutal sport. The game can be stolen from you in a heartbeat (by one goal). It’s a hard way to lose a game.’’
The winning sequence came with 3:16 left to play, and began with a throw-in from Mason junior defender Danielle Meyer that went to junior forward Rachel Holloway. With her back to the goal, it appeared as though she might do a 180 and try to flip in it. Instead, she redirected to junior Vetere.
It is amazing how much information the brain can process in a split second.
As soon as Vetere saw the three Ursula defenders on her left foot, she decided to switch it to her right – even though she might have had a chance to make the goal with her left – she immediately thought she had done one thing too many.
“So I just whipped it hard as I could and it got through the gap and went in,’’ said Vetere, grinning.
The ball slipped into goal the only place it could, to the keeper’s right.
‘‘She (sophomore Olivia Silverman) is such a great keeper,’’ Vetere said. ‘‘I was fortunate. I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders. But I also knew I don’t get that chance without (Meyer and Holloway).’’
There’s no way Mason wins this game if sophomore keeper Toni Bizzarro doesn’t keep Ursula from scoring. Much of it was talent on her part, some of it was sheer luck, given the duress she was under for the first 60 minutes. So many Ursula shots went just high or hit the crossbar or post, the match at times was more high-speed video game than soccer.
The Bulldogs outshot Mason 30 to 4 in the first half.
One shot in particular, only 2 1/2 minutes into the second half, had Bizzarro thinking, ‘‘That’s in.’’ Then it hit the crossbar and the post in the right corner, flashing this thought into Bizzarro’s head: “OK, that works.’’
Three Bulldogs’ shots blasted off the Mason crossbar.
‘‘You just keep telling yourself , ‘We hit post, they hit post, it didn’t go in, so I did my job, I played it right,’ ’’ Bizzarro said. ‘‘And, of course, I’m thinking, ‘If we can keep it out of the net, we’ll put one in and win it.’ ”
The moment that flipped the emotion, and the game with it, occurred with 21 minutes left to play. Mason senior forward Alex Niehoff was hit with a yellow card after fighting for possession with a St. Ursula defender. It drew an uproar from Mason fans that one could hear on I-75.
The yellow card came disguised as a Comets blessing.
‘‘It lit a fire and turned the whole game around,” Niehoff said. “They kind of controlled the whole game up until that point. Little things like that can spark something. It turns a switch and you’re ready to go.”
All of a sudden, Mason went from on its heels on defense to spending most of the final 15 minutes on their offensive third, and started stringing together some opportunities.
Mason converted on a chance, something St. Ursula couldn’t do.
“Once we got that yellow, our mentality was ‘this is our game,’ “Vetere said. ‘‘It brought us our power, our determination to win.’’
Schur credited junior defender Danielle Meyer for taking it upon herself to begin to attack with the offense, rather than sit back and defend.
‘‘Her presence on offense really helped slow a (St. Ursula) down,” Shur said.
The Bulldogs first goal-scoring opportunity came in the 15th minute when junior Kelsey Dollenmayer dribbled down the left side of the field and crossed it into the penalty box to senior Claire Weigand. Weigand was able to gain possession from 10 yards away from the goal, but hit the ball a little too hard, and it went just over the crossbar.
The second half started the same way the first half went—St. Ursula putting pressure on the Mason defense and attacking the goal.
Three minutes into the second half St. Ursula sophomore Mary Vignola took the ball down the right side of the field and served the ball into Dollenmeyer who composed herself to take a shot, only to have it hit the crossbar, again, leaving the Bulldogs shaking their heads.
The Comet defenders were being tested a lot by the St. Ursula offense, which was multi-skilled , disciplined and well-coached, frequently forcing their opponents out of position.