Park pulls away from Big Red, gets spot in OVAC final | News, Sports, Jobs


ON THE PITCH — Steubenville’s Ireland Marshall battles her way through Wheeling Park defenders Seneca Heller, left, and Bailey Meredith during Tuesday night’s OVAC Class 5A girls soccer quarterfinal on the artificial turf inside Wheeling Island Stadium. – Kim North

WHEELING — It’s not very often, if at all, that a team wins a quarterfinal tournament game — or match in this case — and advances straight to the championship. It just so happened Tuesday night on the pitch inside Wheeling Island Stadium.

Following a 10-1 rout of No. 6 Steubenville, Wheeling Park girls head coach coach Carrie Hannah informed her team that instead of traveling to Parkersburg on Thursday to face the second-seeded South Patriots, they will be staying home and playing for the OVAC Class 5A championship on Saturday at noon.

“Parkersburg South pulled out due to too many injuries. They said they had seven girls injured and their best move was to pull out and get healthy,” OVAC Soccer Director Gary Watt said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “Wheeling Park will automatically advance to the championship match.”

Ironically, Wheeling Park blanked Parkersburg South 1-0 in early September on a Merritt Delk penalty kick in the 78th minute.

The third-seeded Patriots (12-2-1) will meet the winner of top-seeded Morgantown and No. 3 Brooke (they play Thursday night in Morgantown) at noon on Saturday inside Wheeling Island Stadium. Wheeling Park will be seeking its first OVAC title since 2017 and its 11 overall.

Senior Audrey Lantz has taken on a new role this season for the Patriots. She has moved from defender to striker and the switch proved dividends as she found the net four times and assisted on two others. Delk, her high-scoring linemate who is headed to the University of Toledo, added a brace and three assists.

“We’ve been talking about this senior class finishing strong like they started as freshmen. Audrey actually got every game-winning goal on our way to the Class AAA state championship in 2020,” Hanna said of the senior. “She’s been a trooper and played everywhere for us. She played in the back last year and we said we needed to get that connection together up front.

“We needed another scorer up front because Merritt is receiving all kinds of attention, so Audrey has added that spark.”

Also scoring for the Patriots were Lily Hanna (2 goals) and Kathryn Prather (goal). Charting assists were Allison Thomas, Caroline L’Ecuyer, Lauren Spears and Elliana McCabe. Goalkeeper Hailey Hastings recorded five saves on six shots. The sophomore didn’t face a Big Red shot until Sagan Smarrella found the net in the 63rd minute. The assist went to Gianna Thomas.

“Knowing just what I know about Delk, she’s going NCAA Division I, she is an amazing player,” Steubenville (4-7) head coach Annie Cutri said. “We tried to shut her down by man-marking her, but she still got past us. We knew they were a strong team, and we’re a really young team that is trying to figure things out on our side.

“Like I’ve been saying all season, our girls won’t quit,” Cutri noted. “They didn’t quit tonight and I’m very proud of them for that.”

Cutri was also pleased with the effort of backup goalkeeper Tessa Rusnak who recorded 10 saves in the second half. Rusnak replaced Mady Thacker who notched eight saves, some of the highlight reel variety.

“She’s only a freshman. She did all the things we asked of her,” Cutri praised. “It’s not easy coming into a match like this, so I’m proud of her.”

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