Sometimes coaches will say after a win that, ‘It took a total team effort.’ And talking heads will talk about how that’s coach speak and it doesn’t really mean anything.

But, as the Olentangy Liberty girls soccer team showed in the final minute of a 3-2 victory over Hilliard Darby in Tuesday night’s Division I regional semifinal at Westerville Central High School, sometimes it’s not just coach speak.

It took goalkeeper Riley Cartwright and her defense, namely Sydney Weaver, Lindsey Kijowoski and Olivia Sensky to block shots from close range to hold up a one-goal victory for the Patriots (12-5-3).

“That was a little scary. I had a heart attack,” Cartwright said. “I mean, we didn’t stop working until the end. That was a total team effort. We never gave up on each other even when the two goals went in.”

Cartwright, still wide-eyed and heart-pounding afterward, talked about the effort.

“It’s a really big team effort – especially today,” she said. “We really rely on our teammates. They made a couple of big saves for me and I made a couple of saves for them.”

Darby’s Blair Cowan and Hannah Knobloch each got shots off in the final minute before Olivia Kane’s free kick went off the post right to Naomi Walters, who soared a shot over the crossbar in the final 10 seconds in the Panthers’ last-ditch effort.

“(Darby is) really physical, which is not a good matchup for us,” said Liberty coach Kristen McMahon, whose team won an Oct. 5 matchup 2-0 in Powell. “We grinded all the way through and they played all 80 minutes.”

Darby got a pair of goals by Walters and Aaliyah Brletic within a four-minute stretch (with 15:52 left and 12:14 left, respectively) to keep it a one-goal deficit.

It was Emma Lindsey’s rebound off a Sensky free kick with 13:23 left that ended up being the difference-maker for the Patriots, who earned a trip to their second regional final in three years.

“I just saw the opportunity and I knew our captain, Liv, wanted us to be working hard and rebounding the ball,” Lindsey said. “So, I did what she wanted and it ended up working out.”

As for Cartwright and the Patriot defense, they made similar stops on shots by Brletic and Cowan in the 12th minute to keep it a scoreless game. Sensky stopped the first shot attempt before Mara Follmer got in the way of the second.

“In the back we work as a team and we progress as a team,” Cartwright said. “So, when that happened, we all realized that we gotta get up, we gotta go, and we caught them on the attack and we were lucky enough to score.”

That score came less than four minutes later as Liberty took a 1-0 lead on a Abby Townsend tap-in off an Abby Jones centering pass from the right with 24:29 left in the first half.

Kijowski gave the Patriots a 2-0 lead with 36:43 left.

“That set the tone for the game. We always want to score first – especially in the tournament,” McMahon said.

Cartwright wasn’t without her own brilliance. She made a stop on a Brletic shot from point-blank range off a perfect Walters centering pass from the left in the 34th minute to keep it a 1-0 game.

Cartwright finished with seven saves for the Patriots and Emily Schneck had three stops in goal for the Panthers (13-4-3)

Liberty plays Pickerington North in the regional final Saturday at a time and location to be announced.

Big Walnut 1, Unioto 0

Shots were few and far between, but the Golden Eagles made the most of theirs on the way to a Division II regional semifinal win over the Sherman Tanks Tuesday at Bloom-Carroll.

Unioto goalie Sydney Free stopped Big Walnut’s first three shots — the first three shots of the game by either team — but the fourth proved to be the difference as Alexis Schone found the back of the net with 13:47 left in the first half.

The Eagle defense took care of the rest, holding off the Tanks in the second half to secure the shutout and a ticket to Saturday’s regional final against either John Glenn or New Philadelphia at a time and place to be determined.

Olentangy Liberty players celebrate after taking a 3-1 lead in the second half of a Division I regional semifinal against Hilliard Darby Tuesday at Westerville Central. Liberty players celebrate after taking a 3-1 lead in the second half of a Division I regional semifinal against Hilliard Darby Tuesday at Westerville Central. Ben Stroup | Gazette
Golden Eagles advance in D-II regional tourney

By Michael Rich

For the Gazette