By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Princeton’s soccer postseason came down to a matter of inches.
A dribbler along the Princeton goal line, struck by George Washington sophomore Sarah Bodner, weaved into the scoring rectangle by the slimmest of margins on Wednesday evening, and that goal held up for a 1-0 win by the Patriots over the Tigers at Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium, nestled in the hills of Coonskin Park above Charleston.
Princeton head coach Michelle Dye, whose team finished the season with a program-best 17-2 record, said, “It’s extremely frustrating, but I definitely don’t blame it on the keeper at all. It was just one of those things, just one of those fluke goals. They were lucky tonight, and we were just unlucky with it.”
“They scored and we didn’t. That’s kind of what it boiled down to.”
Senior co-captain Stephanie Lambert, wiping away tears as she walked toward the Princeton locker room, said, “We went out there and gave 100 percent. We did our best; we just couldn’t get a goal off.”
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Princeton forwards Shaylah Walls and Amanda Barrett were able to use their speed and ball control skills to nibble at the defense, but had few opportunities against George Washington (17-4-1) in the Class AAA Region 3 title match on an unusually warm autumn evening.
Walls was often marked with double-teams, and the Princeton squad could not manage to take the pressure off.
Dye said, “We actually kept our starting strikers and midfield in (on defense). It was just hard for us to get the attack. The pressure was constantly on. GW did an exceptional job.”
The Tigers wound up with five shots, four of them on goal, and only one scoring chance after intermission. The Patriots had eight shots in each half, and 10 of the 16 were shots on goal.
Goalkeeper Meredith Putorek had nine saves for Princeton and George Washington sophomore Olivia Miller saved four of Princeton’s chances.
George Washington first-year coach Derek Ragle said, “I’m proud of the girls. They came out and played hard, but give credit to Princeton. They gave us everything we wanted, and then some. I’m happy with how our girls responded. I don’t think they panicked, they just kept playing and they capitalized on a good chance.”
The Princeton defense had its feet full, cutting off the path to the posts of the Patriots’ top scorers, Charlie Lucente and Taylor Ellis.
Lambert was relentless, coming up to win loose balls near midfield and to challenge the Patriots to get by her.
“I just knew this was my senior year,” she said. “It could be my last game. I just wanted to go out there and give everything that I had.”
The game was scoreless well into the second half. In the 56th minute, GW overpowered the Tigers defense and put the ball into the net, but as they began to celebrate, the officials ruled that the Patriots were offside before the shot.
Dye said, “Actually, we saw that she was offsides on the run for it. We were kind of hoping the referee caught it, which she did. It seemed to pump the girls up right after it happened.”
About three minutes later, Walls took the ball downfield and battled off three defenders, pulling out the GW keeper. But as she tapped the ball forward to the left of the empty goal, the ball gathered too much speed on the artificial surface and bounced across the end line.
With 15:45 left in the match, the Princeton defenders were dealing with a flurry of passes in the 18-yard box when Bodner collected the ball and sent a shot at a severe angle from the right side of the goal.
Putorek scooped up the ball near the left post, but it had skimmed across the goal line. The Princeton team seemed instantly stunned by the goal call. A couple of them tried without success to convince the official that the ball had never made it in.
Ragle said about Bodner’s effort, “Her little motor never stops, and she just got up there and deflected one in.”
Lambert said, “The defense did the best that they could. Meredith just got unlucky. It was a good shot. There was nothing she could do.”
“It was just one of those lucky shots,” Dye said. “One team was going to make a mistake, and we made it back there. We just got unlucky.”
Princeton kept challenging for possession and attacking in the waning minutes, with GW senior defender Catherine Geis rising to the occasion twice to turn the Tigers away. Barrett took the first of Princeton’s two corner kicks with only 5:30 left on the clock. Neither resulted in a clean shot on goal.
George Washington took four corner kicks.
The Patriots, who move on to a state semifinal game next week in Beckley, evened the series between the two teams for the year.
Princeton had beaten GW 2-0 in the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship game on Oct. 6.
Lambert said about the first meeting, “Last game, we didn’t know what to expect, so we just went out there doing everything that we could.”
Ragle said about the rematch, “We finished. Last time, we had chances and we didn’t finish. They’ve got a heck of a keeper. But this time we got one past her.”
Dye said, “It was a hard-fought game. Both teams played well … great, tough competition. Both teams were pretty much equal on the field.”
She said about Princeton’s season, “Overall, I’m extremely pleased. We play some extremely tough competition, and for our girls to be able to compete at this level -- they’ve exceeded all my expectations for this entire season.”
“They finished the regular season with one loss. They made it to the regional final. … Like I said, they’ve exceeded all my expectations.”
—Contact Tom Bone