A relentless start helped veteran Granville deflate a young Bexley team Tuesday.
The Blue Aces, with 12 seniors, dominated most of the first half and rode sophomore Nikki Cox’s hat trick to a 4-1 Division II regional semifinal win against the Lions at Zanesville’s John D. Sulsberger Memorial Stadium.
Cox scored two of her goals in the second half, and classmate Tori Long made some stellar saves in the final 40 minutes as Granville (17-2-1) rolled into its first regional final at 3 p.m. Saturday at a site to be determined. The Blue Aces will play Hillsboro (16-2-2) — which beat West Holmes 3-2 — for a berth in a state semifinal.
“I guess we’re a dynamic duo,” said Long, who had six of her eight saves in the second half. “It’s been an amazing season. Beating Bexley, I’m just very happy right now. It was a team effort, not just one person.”
“I’m so excited. I didn’t think we would get this far,” senior defender Ryan Kauchak said. “We talked about it after the game, and everyone’s morale is really boosted. The school is getting behind us.”
Granville attacked from the start against a Lion team playing only three seniors. After missing on some early opportunities — including two corner kicks — Gabby Male assisted Riley Rosinski’s straight-on shot with 23:55 left in the first half.
Cox got behind the packed-in defense and scored off the right side with her left foot — off a Rosinski assist — as the Blue Aces led 2-0 at halftime. Were it not for back-to-back outstanding saves by Bexley’s goaltender, it could have been worse.
“I knew if we scored first, it would make (Bexley) come out of their shell and come at us as much as possible,” coach Scott Forster said. “That enabled us to go more on the attack. We could have had five goals and had a lot of missed opportunities. But once we got that first goal, it took some of the pressure off our team.”
Cox helped secure the win. With 31:03 left, she turned a touch from Chloe Kent into a goal off a free kick when her hard shot hit the far post and rattled back through off the near-side post. She made it 4-0 with 25:50 on Rosinski’s second assist.
Long made two key saves on direct kicks sandwiched around the Lions’ lone goal as Bexley stepped up the attack and outshot Granville 6-3 in the second half.
“I’ve done a lot of work at practice with coach Andy Male,” Long said. “On a visit to Otterbein, their coach said that their goalie stays back on the line on direct kicks. So I tried to stay on the line and not go out five yards like I normally do.”
Things got a little chippy, as the Blue Aces received three yellow cards and the Lions one. But Granville kept its composure.
“When we had the four goals, we kind of got away from our game for about 10 minutes,” Forster said. “They were coming at us.
“The goal is still the state, but we’re very happy with where we are.”