By Mike Maltais
They did it!
The Liberty Bell High School girls’ soccer team beat the odds to defeat the Bridgeport Fillies, 3-2, on Saturday (Nov. 16) in a must-win game to decide which of the two Central Washington 2B league leaders would advance to the state finals this weekend.
On Bridgeport’s home pitch and before the Fillies’ hometown fans, the Lady Lions avenged two earlier season losses to Bridgeport and won a return trip to Sunset Stadium in Sumner, where they will meet Bear Creek in semi-final action Friday (Nov. 22) at 4 p.m.
When Liberty Bell lost to Bridgeport, 5-4, by penalty kicks in overtime late last month, coach Erik Olson was already revisiting his team’s game strategy in anticipation of a likely final playoff game against the Fillies. Olson’s decision to shuffle some player positions paid off in spades for Liberty Bell.
“We changed our formation from a 3-5-2, that is three defenders, five midfielders, two strikers, to a 4-4-2: four defenders, four midfielders, and two strikers,” Olson said.
The coach adjusted the Lady Lions’ attack to counter a problem he noticed in Liberty Bell’s two previous encounters with the Fillies’ defense.
“In our previous two games Bridgeport stopped us from going down center field,” Olson said.
The coach shifted two of his best ball handlers, Tulie Budiselich and Lauren Fitzmaurice, from the striker position to outside midfielders.
“Tulie and Lauren are both good outside dribblers,” Olson said.
Freshman Mia Kennedy was moved from center midfielder to striker.
The tactic allowed Budiselich and Fitzmaurice to utilize their speed to move the ball up field along the outside corridor and pass to Kennedy in scoring territory.
Before Bridgeport recognized the new game plan Liberty Bell was up by two goals.
“Mia scored twice within the first two minutes,” Olson said.
For the remainder of the game the Fillies “were throwing everything they could use at us,” Olson said.
Early in the second half, senior Estrella Corrigan connected on what Olson termed “a beautiful goal” to put Liberty Bell up 3-0.
Bridgeport’s desperate counterattack managed to produce two goals during the final 10 minutes of play before the Lady Lions stiffened their defense to shut down another score.
Veterans from last year’s Lady Lions team will see some familiar faces at Sumner with three of four finalists from last year making a return appearance at state.
The Bear Creek Grizzlies from Redmond, Liberty Bell’s semi-finals opponent, are the two-time defending state champions and hope to win the title for a third consecutive year.
Last year the Lady Lions and Bear Creek did not oppose each other in the state showdown so the Grizzlies asked to be included on Liberty Bell’s game schedule this season. The two teams met on the LBHS pitch Sept. 14, where Bear Creek won the game, 4-0. Bear Creek beat Mount Vernon Christian 8-0 to clinch its return to state.
Crosspoint Academy from Bremerton is also back and will remember the Lady Lions from last season. Liberty Bell and Crosspoint met in the consolation game to determine third and fourth place at state. Crosspoint won, 3-1. Crosspoint defeated LaConner, 4-1, to advance to Sumner.
The Adna Pirates replace the Napavine Tigers in this year’s roster of final four teams.
Liberty Bell lost to Napavine, 3-0, in last season’s semi-final game that set up the showdown between the Lady Lions and the Warriors.
As has been the case for the past four consecutive years, the Liberty Bell girls are once again the reigning Washington Interscholastic Activities Association 2B academic state champions with a cumulative grade point average of 3.907.
Olson made special note of how much his team has matured since the start of the season. In spite of injuries to key players and a young roster that includes seven eighth graders and four freshmen, the Lady Lions “have shown the most progression of any team in the league,” Olson said.
That is reflected not only in the WIAA academic title but also in the seven Liberty Bell players voted to this year’s Central Washington 2B All-League teams.
Adna will play Crosspoint at 2 p.m. Friday (Nov. 22) followed by Liberty Bell and Bear Creek at 4 p.m.