XENIA – Tori Long wore a huge knee brace, but a bigger smile.
Playing with a torn ACL and also injuring her ankle, Granville’s senior goalie fought through the pain and helped the third-ranked Blue Aces gut out a 2-1 Division II state semifinal win against No. 2 Cincinnati Indian Hill on Tuesday at Xenia’s Doug Adams Stadium.
“The adrenaline is wearing off, and I’m in a lot of pain, but I’m so happy,” said Long, who had 10 saves. “There’s no way you’re keeping me out of that (state title) game.”
Granville (17-3-2) plays No. 1 Akron Hoban, a 4-1 winner against Celina, for the state championship at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Columbus Crew Mapre Stadium.
Coach Scott Forster called it a flashback to 2013 when, as a sophomore, Long played with a broken hand in a 1-0 state semifinal win against Kettering Alter.
“She’s a real trouper,” he said.
Or, as Granville trainer Brei Miller called her, “a beast.”
The Blue Aces relied on Long and their defense against the skilled, athletic Braves (15-2-3) after Granville took a 2-1 lead during a two-minute span of the first half. Senior All-Ohioan Nikki Cox lofted a pass to freshman sister Katie, while falling down in the corner, and she booted it home at 15:40 for a 1-1 tie. Then, at 13:39, senior Taylor Beitzel scored on a rebound after Nikki Cox’s long shot hit the post for what proved to be the game-winner.
“They play on a turf field, so it was kind of an advantage for (Indian Hill) tonight,” Forster said. “It was pretty frenetic for the first 15 to 20 minutes, and we battled through the chaos. Soccer is all about opportunities, and we took advantage of ours.”
For much of the time before that, the Braves dominated but managed just sophomore Morgan Jackson’s goal at 36:53, off a long pass from the corner, to take a 1-0 lead. It was the first time Granville trailed in the tournament after blitzing opponents 40-1.
“We showed we could come back,” Nikki Cox said. “A lot of teams would have gotten frazzled, especially against an amazing team like that. They had a lot of speed and great touches. But we showed our maturity. Yes, we have some seniors, but we’re not all seniors like we were a couple of years ago. Our freshmen, sophomores and everyone on up came through. We were still able to control the ball.”
Her late first-half shot was just wide of the goal and would have given the Blue Aces a 3-1 lead and some breathing room. Instead, Granville fans were left holding their breath in the second half, as the Braves continually attacked the net and out-shot the winners 6-3. But defenders Reilly Welles and Natalie Pireu continually cleared balls away, and Long, despite the brace, showed great agility and also was able to boom some goal kicks.
“I’m so proud of them,” Long said of the defense. “It wasn’t just me. They talked, communicated and played great.”
On the night, Indian Hill out-shot the Blue Aces 12-8, and had six corner kicks to four by Granville. But it will be the Blue Aces getting their second shot at a state title in three seasons. In 2013, Granville lost 3-1 in the finals to Rocky River.
“It’s a great feeling right now, but it’s nothing compared to what it will be if we win it,” Cox said.
Forster said winning it all has been the goal from the start, not just getting back to the title game.
“It’s good to prove people wrong,” Long said. “Two years ago, we had 12 seniors, they graduated and no one thought we would get back there.”