RADFORD — The pressure of playing in Briar Woods’s first Virginia AA girls’ soccer state semifinal weighed heavily on Nikki Batt. Along with fellow defenders Lauren Kelly and Tori Panzica, the sophomore was tasked with slowing repeat semifinalist Blacksburg on Saturday at Radford’s Patrick D. Cupp Stadium.
“To be at this point and make history for our school, I know for me, I was pretty nervous,” Batt said. “Once I make a good play, then my nerves go away.”
That play came 32 minutes into the contest, when Batt chased down a Blacksburg forward and knocked away a potential close-range shot, showcasing the defensive hustle that lifted Briar Woods to a 1-0 victory and a spot in Sunday’s title game. The Falcons will face AA Dulles District rival Woodgrove, a 6-1 winner against Salem, for the fourth time this season. The title game is at noon.
Blacksburg finished the season 18-4.
Scoring opportunities proved hard to come by for Briar Woods until the 28th minute, when Emma Quirk capitalized on a broken play. The junior forward gathered a deflected ball before blasting a left-footed shot into the net.
From there, the Falcons (20-4-1) relied on their defense, a unit that’s low in numbers (three) but high on results, with just 18 goals allowed on the season.
“They are so smart with how they read the strengths of our opponents and make adjustments,” Falcons Coach Ann Vierkorn said. “[Panzica] saved us back there about five times and together, I think they are effective because of the survival instinct they have since there’s only three of them back there.”
A concerted effort was necessary midway through the second half. Twice the ball danced near the Briar Woods goal line, but each time the Falcons cleared the ball out of their territory to preserve their lead.
●WOODGROVE 6, SALEM 1: The ball furiously rolled toward the goal, creating a battle of wills between Wolverines senior Sarah Hardison and a Salem defender during the second half of Saturday’s AAstate semifinal. Though neither her positioning nor the approaching presence of Salem’s goalie favored Hardison, the senior forward blocked out both, churning and bumping her way to the ball before knocking a short shot into the net.
From hustle plays to its barrage of early goals, Woodgrove’s hunger to defend its state title proved evident throughout its 6-1 rout of Salem at Radford.
“We have 11 seniors who have known each other for a long time and are all playing together for the last time, so we’re just giving our all,” said Ashley Bonner, who had two goals for the Wolverines.
Just two minutes into the contest, Woodgrove (19-5-1) was on the board after Brittany Basinger headed in a corner kick by Hardison. Bonner netted the Wolverines’ next two goals, the first of which came in the fifth minute and the next just before halftime on a header off a cross by Victoria Perry, who would later add a goal of her own.
Salem (17-4-2) mustered its lone shot on goal midway through the second half on a penalty kick that Anna Hakkenberg converted. But that did little to slow the Wolverines, whose final goal came from Morgaine Smith. The senior’s stoppage time score sent Woodgrove’s bench into a frenzy and pushed the team’s postseason scoring margin to 28-6.
●GEORGE MASON 2, RADFORD 1: This year’s appearance in the Virginia A state tournament was far from routine for the Mustangs. Heavy rainstorms delayed their trip to Radford University and in Saturday’s semifinal, the Mustangs found themselves trailing for just the fifth time all season.
But by riding the tenacity that made it the five-time defending state champ, George Mason bounced back. The Mustangs will face Stuarts Draft, a 3-2 winner against James River-Buchanan, at noon on Sunday in a rematch of the Region B final.
“Mentally coming back from being down early in a game like this is big for us,” Mustangs Coach Jennifer Parsons said. “It was pretty intense but the girls responded well.”
The deficit was built on a scrum play in front of the Mustangs’ goal, putting the Bobcats up 1-0. But in the 20th minute, Annie Washa found Claire Trevisan behind the defense, setting up the junior forward for score on the run.
Twenty minutes into the second half, Trevisan put the Mustangs (21-4) up for good, finding space near the top of the 18-yard box before firing a shot high into the goal.