Oak Harbor’s soccer dream ends in the regional finals

BY YANEEK SMITH, BEACON CONTRIBUTOR

CLYDE — An incredible run that saw Oak Harbor win three of its first four girls soccer matches in overtime or a shootout came to an end. The Rockets were soundly defeated by Mansfield Madison, 10-1, in a Division II regional final at Bob Bishop Stadium.

Oak Harbor ran into a buzzsaw as the Rams came out firing on all cylinders. Madison scored exactly two minutes into the match when Taylor Huff kicked one past Rocket goalkeeper Ripley St. Clair to make it 1-0. St. Clair made a couple of key saves in the coming minutes before Kalie Blaising scored at 33:53 to push the lead to two goals.

Oak Harbor got on the board as Hannah Schulte, who scored 30 goals this season, connected on a difficult goal at 32:15, cutting the deficit to 2-1, but the Rams answered just over three minutes later when Kari Eckenwiler scored to push the lead back to two goals.

Nine minutes passed before Madison scored again, this one coming on a shot by Eckenwiler to make it 4-1 with 20:22 to play in the first half. Madison, which plays in the Ohio Cardinal Conference, continued its dominance, scoring three more times in the next five minutes to put the game out of reach.

The Rams, who have been ranked second in Ohio for much of the season, got four goals apiece by Huff and Eckenwiler. Huff, a junior, has committed to attending the University of Tennessee.

“They’re phenomenal. We knew we had our hands full,” said Oak Harbor coach Renee Williamson. “With injuries and a great opponent, the odds are stacked against you.”

Madison improves to 17-1-4, with its only loss coming to Anthony Wayne, which won a regional championship in Div. I. (The Rams will play Chagrin Falls in the state semifinals.) The Rockets, meanwhile, finish the season at 15-5-1.

“We’ll take it one game at a time,” said Madison coach Zac Huff, who acknowledges that one of his team’s goals all year has been to win the state championship. “We have to put forth the effort and attitude, and we’ll see what happens. We can accept losing to a better team, but our effort and attitude have to be there. We’ve just got to keep playing the way we’ve been playing all year.”

Oak Harbor’s path to the regional finals was one filled with plenty of drama and suspense. In the sectional final, the Rockets, dubbed the “cardiac kids” for their resilience in turbulent times, defeated rival Port Clinton, 2-1, in overtime on a goal by Schulte before beating Napoleon, 3-1, in the district semifinal. Oak Harbor then defeated Central Catholic, 3-2, in the district final in double overtime on a goal by Haley Lenke and beat Celina, 2-1, (4-3 in a shootout) in chaotic fashion, rallying from a 3-2 deficit (in the shootout) before Lenke scored and St. Clair came up with two key stops that were sandwiched around her scoring a goal to give the Rockets the lead for good.

It was the final match for five Rockets — Lenke, Erica Winters, Gaby Branch, Julie Young and Riley Watkins — all of whom have meant a great deal to the program.

Despite finishing the season off with a tough loss, this was one of Oak Harbor’s best seasons. The youthful Rockets won the Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division title, claiming the league championship for the 11th time in 12 seasons, and won their third district title and first in four years. Aside from the 2013 squad that advanced to the state semifinals, this was the farthest Oak Harbor had ever advanced. The run also brought the community together as large crowds followed the Rockets throughout the tournament.

“We had some ups and downs this season. We had some games that we probably should’ve won and didn’t,” Williamson said. “(But) we achieved our goal by advancing in the tournament and reaching the regional finals, which was such an exciting accomplishment. So many teams never make it this far. In the end, it was the perfect time to come together. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

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