WHEELING - Great teams find a way to overcome adversity.
Wheeling Central's girls did it Thursday night.
With the sky overhead Field 4 having almost completely darkened, the Maroon Knights' No. 4 - Ashton Cross - lit up the back of the net with just a few minutes remaining to give her team a 3-2, come-from behind victory against Weir.
PHOTO BY RICK THORP
Wheeling Central’s Bailey Clark (3) pushes the ball ahead as Weir’s Dominique Gilbert (13) and the Maroon Knights’ Olivia Gazzola chase the play.
Just when it looked like the match would go to overtime, Cross gained possession of the ball and started making her way toward the net. When she reached the top of the penalty area, a Weir defender slipped, enabling Cross to have a clear shot.
''It was just one of those things, especially when you play this late and on grass,'' Weir coach Jessica Naughton said.
''But, it was a great match and I think it was one of the toughest Central has had lately. They proved why they're 11-0.''
Bailey Clark scored the other two goals for Wheeling Central, which remained unbeaten with the OVAC Cup on the horizon.
''The girls played really well in the second half,'' Maroon Knights coach David Cross said with a crescent moon lighting the field.
''In the first half, the girls were rushing to kick the ball instead of passing to each other.''
Actually, it was the latter part of the first half. The opening moments were all Wheeling Central.
About four minutes in, Clark found herself all alone on a breakaway. Her shot sailed over the top of the goal.
However, roughly a minute later, Clark found herself in almost the same situation. This time though, her blast found the back of the right side of the net and Central led 1-0.
''When they got that first goal I thought 'Here we go again,' '' Naughton said. ''But my girls fought back and forged a tie.''
That happened five minutes later when Monica Burdette slipped the ball into the right side of the goal.
Weir took a 2-1 lead in the 28th minute when Alyssa Shingle found Emily Ruiz who, after brief momnent of give and take with a Central defender, fired a shot past Maroon Knights goalkeeper Regan Blaha (8 saves).
The goal was part of a long stretch where the Red Riders were on the offensive.
''We held pretty tight for the rest of the half,'' Naughton said.
With his team's unbeaten season on the ropes, Cross told his players at halftime to simply relax.
''I told them to play as a team and we'll score some goals,'' he said.
With five minutes elapsed off the second-half clock, Clark knotted the game at 2-2 with her second goal. The junior garnered the ball, waited patiently for a moment, then lofted a perfect shot over the head of Red Riders netminder Alyssa Kelly, who made four saves on the evening.
Weir had opportunities to score on corner kicks midway through the second half, but Central's defense became more stiffling as the half progressed.
''I think we had the ball in their end for most of the latter part of the second half,'' Cross said.
''Everyone is unselfish and we played together. There's not one person on the team who's doing all of the scoring.
''We played five or six girls at forward and center mid and our defense has been terrific.''
Central, the No. 2 seed in the OVAC Cup, plays No. 7 seed St. Clairsville in a quarterfinal at 5 next Thursday afternoon at Red Devils Stadium.
Weir, meanwhile, is setting its sights on the state tournament.
''This showed our girls we can play in a big game,'' Naughton said. ''I think we'll see them again.''