Hockey players sometimes squeeze their sticks too tightly, basketball players will dribble the ball off their feet, baseball players strike out and football players have been known to drop passes when on-field stress intensifies.
Oak Harbor’s Maddy Rathbun plays soccer and she has a method to ward off mistakes under pressure. She didn’t play out of her mind Saturday but instead was mindless as the Rockets shut out Woodmore 5-0 in a Division III district final at Lake.
“The only thing I was thinking was shot,” Rathbun said of her tally to open the scoring. “When I don’t think about it, it works.”
Rathbun’s goal came off Amanda Hetrick’s corner kick.
“Hannah Hess took back side (far post) and (the ball) popped out (away from the goal),” Rathbun said. “The whole season we’ve worked on balls going back out to the middle and crashing from the back side.”
Oak Harbor plays Continental at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ottawa Hills in a regional semifinal. Continental topped top-seed Kalida 2-1 as the second-seed Saturday.
Ally Croy collected a loose ball for Oak Harbor’s second goal in the first six minutes. The Wildcats defeated the Rockets 3-1 for Oak Harbor’s only loss during the regular season but Rathbun said emotion played no role in the fast start.
Instead, the final boost the Rockets needed may have come from the fact it was Rathbun and Croy who scored the first-half goals. Frequent scorers Paige Velliquette and Alexa Weis tallied in the second half before Tessa Tyburski drove home a rebound.
“I’m not a main scorer,” Rathbun said. “I knew as soon as I scored – and everybody else knew too – we’d have a good game. Ally isn’t a main scorer. It started flowing and we continued it as a team.”
The pressure the Rockets let run off their backs Saturday stemmed from five consecutive setbacks when reaching the district finals.
“The ever-elusive game,” Oak Harbor coach Renee Goldstein said. “It’s amazing. Finally. The girls came to play and they wanted it. Things carried over from Thursday. It feels really good. All I could do is cry. I can’t believe it … but I can.
“We lost five or six starters so just to get back to the district final is a great feeling, but to actually win …”
The Rockets’ hump-buster might be depth. When girls you don’t depend on to score do so at the district level it can do a lot for a team’s efficiency, production and execution going forward.
“You have to laugh,” Goldstein said. “You never know who will score. The strong girls get marked first but my depth is huge. They can come in and do it as well.”
Oak Harbor (17-1-1) and Woodmore (18-2) each won an outright league championship in the Sandusky Bay Conference and Northern Buckeye Conference, respectively, this season. The Wildcats won five more games than the previous single-season program record.
Leah Henry, Allie Wank, Grace Weirich, Cailey Willhardt, Katie Tersigni and Lexey Holub are seniors for the Wildcats.
“They were very important in holding together the ‘Together as one’ motto,” first-year Woodmore coach Jason Allen said.
Oak Harbor has not allowed a goal in its last two tournament games and has nine shutouts on the season with Ivy Martin in goal. Defender Karis DeWalt and midfielder Emma Barney are part of a young group that is aggressive and tries to maintain possession with short passes on the ground.
The tendency may have facilitated Saturday’s victory as wind wreaked havoc on balls in the air.
“It wasn’t our day,” Allen said. “The wind played a huge factor.”
Rathbun agreed – sort of – as Oak Harbor was able to combat the conditions with its strategy.
“The wind didn’t impact us,” she said. “We had the wind in the second half. We tried to keep it on the ground. That made a difference. (Woodmore goalkeeper) Julia (Barbee) had her hands on just about every goal.
“We power-shot them I guess you could say. This game, it was our game.”
There would be no mistaking it.