ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The way things were shaping up, Linsly and Wheeling Central were headed for a long night on the turf at Red Devil Stadium.
Then Linsly's Maleha Kureishy stepped to a place where she felt right at home.
A free kick from 20 yards out.
Kureishy calmly approached the ball and, while it seemed like the ball was momentarily in suspended animation, seconds later Linsly had all the fuel it needed to fire itself through the first round of the OVAC tournament with a 2-0 victory against Wheeling Central.
Nobody was happier than coach Erica Hall.
"She loves taking free kicks," Hall said. "Whenever she is in that situation, the whole team gets fired up. She hit it perfectly and that was exactly what we needed."
It gives Linsly (8-4-1) the opportunity to move on in what is its biggest tournament of the year. The Cadets will face Morgantown - a 2-0 winner against Parkersburg on Tuesday - a team it tied 0-0 earlier in the season.
Without a state tournament in which to play, Hall said the OVAC Championship is what the Cadets eye every year.
"It means a lot, it's our postseason tournament," she said. "This is the one that matters, it's our conference championship."
It was a well-contested game throughout, with Wheeling Central keeper Regan Blaha keeping her team in the game with a variety of quality saves. She finished with 16 saves.
Blaha kept the score 0-0 late in the first half when she dove on a ball right in front of the net right before a Linsly player could get there for what would have been an easy scoring opportunity.
Time after time she rejected, redirected and flat-out stopped Linsly's continuous assault on the back of the net.
"She played great," Central coach David Cross said. "Linsly has been the best soccer program in the Valley for the last 20-30 years. I actually thought the girls played great. They made Central proud. They never gave up, they played with heart and they played with poise. I'm proud of them."
With Linsly ahead on Kureishy's free kick, Central finally looked like it had the equalizer on a breakaway but a handball nullified a kick that found the back of the net.
Two minutes later, Linsly's Anna Caruso found the net open after a shot from Grace George bounced off Blaha and tallied the game clincher with six minutes left.
"We were able to take care of business and beat a very good team," Hall said. "We're just trying to advance and we are happy to have the opportunity to play Morgantown again."
Wheeling Central (9-5) will continue its march toward the postseason of a different variety.
"We wanted to win, obviously, but this was a good showing and our girls will gain some confidence from the way we played tonight."
Linsly keeper Vivian Allison had five saves on seven Central shots and was credited with a shutout.