By Michael Rich
The Olentangy Liberty girls soccer team can now say it will do something that no team in program history has done before: play in a regional championship.
Natalie Amodeo got things started and Sarina Dirrig scored twice to lead the Patriots to a 3-1 win over the Golden Bears in a Division I regional semifinal Tuesday at Dublin Jerome High School.
“It means the world to the girls right now,” Patriots coach Kristen McMahon said. “They wanted to make history, they wanted to be first and we’re so excited to be going to regionals.”
It’s all falling into place for Liberty. Not only is the team farther than ever before, but it gets a familiar foe in the next round.
Olentangy, which advanced with a 1-0 win over Pickerington North Tuesday in Gahanna, knocked out the Patriots in the regional semifinal round last season.
“We’ve been talking all week about making history,” McMahon said. “Last year, we made it this far and we obviously didn’t get the opportunity to advance.”
Liberty got some measure of revenge with a 4-1 win at Olentangy Oct. 1, but Wednesday’s results have set up a dream scenario for both teams.
“Last year we were ranked No. 1 in the state and we lost in the regional semis (to Olentangy),” Dirrig said. “That hurt for a really long time and most of the (players) still remember it. We won in the regular season last year, they won in the tournament, we won in the regular season this year … we’re not going to lose in the tournament, I’m confident in that.”
The Patriots got both first-half goals off corner kicks. Emma Waters placed two balls perfectly off the corner, the first setting up Amodeo with 27:22 remaining.
“Luckily, I was on the back side, so I was able to get on the end of it there,” Amodeo said. “I was kind of due for a goal, so it got me really excited. We’ve been practicing (corner kicks) a lot, and obviously it paid off. I was happy that I was able to start the game off like that.”
“We talked about the importance of being the first one to score and just how that helps our intensity,” McMahon said. “It’s how we frame the rest of the game, so I’m glad they’re taking that to heart.”
A little more than 20 minutes later, Dirrig was able to put Waters’ kick home to give Liberty a 2-0 lead that held up at the break.
Upper Arlington put the pressure on early in the second half. Hannah Dible split the defense a little over nine minutes into the second half and beat Emma Campbell one-on-one to put the Golden Bears on the board just over nine minutes into the second half.
“I think we had one mental lapse and we’re working to eliminate that,” McMahon said. “But instead of two, we have one, so that’s good.”
The Bears had a chance at the equalizer with a free kick and a corner kick on the same possession with about 14 minutes left, but Campbell made a sliding stop to prevent the latter chance from getting through. Campbell finished with five saves for Liberty.
“We need to settle down and we need to play our game,” McMahon said. “When we let them control the game, that’s when things got out of control. We’re learning from this and it will continue to get better.”
The Patriots put it away not long after when Abby Jones placed a centering pass from the left corner to Dirrig for her second goal to put Liberty up 3-1 with 11:55 remaining.
“That was a beautiful ball by Abby Jones,” McMahon said. “It was a perfect dribble down the line, get it to the end line and set it back … perfect ball and Sarina found it. We could all see it from a mile away.”
Hannah Ewing had six saves for Upper Arlington.
The regional final between Liberty and Olentangy is scheduled for noon Saturday at Westerville Central.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.