By Nelson Coffin
With the results from Thursday’s A Conference indoor soccer semifinals at Clarence “Du” Burns Arena in Canton being the polar opposite from one another, one fact is firmly established.
And that is that Mercy, which flexed it muscles by pounding Friends, 9-0, in the opener of the doubleheader, is the team to beat in the championship match against John Carroll, which eliminated Notre Dame Prep, 4-3, in overtime in the other semifinal.
The rivals will clash at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the same site for the title.
After all, the top-seeded Magic are unbeaten this season (9-0), have won 21 of their last 22 matches and are riding a 16-game winning streak that dates back to Dec. 6, 2017.
The defending champs are that strong, deep and talented.
Against Friends, Mercy jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on goals by junior midfielder Adrianna Gunther and sophomore midfielder Emma Aviles and never looked back.
Considering that the Magic has allowed only eight goals all season while scoring 65, the fourth-seeded Quakers (3-8) were in a predicament that could not easily be remedied.
Instead, Mercy continued its onslaught that carried throughout the contest against a rival with only two seniors.
Despite a couple of fine runs by senior midfielder McKenna Klausner, some stellar play in the back by sophomore defender Christina McLaughlin, a sizzling shot taken by freshman forward Ani Weber and solid work in the goal by sophomore Emma Workman (6 saves) and freshman Annalisa Jenkins (10 saves), the Quakers were no match for the juggernaut that is Mercy.
The Magic spread the scoring around.
Besides Gunther and Aviles (3 goals), junior midfielder Pallina Jordan, junior defender Claire Geier, sophomore defender Madison Laine, senior Lydia Morris and senior forward/defender Ada Clare Tempert all had goals.
Tempert also dished out four assists.
“All we could do was just try to sit in and counter them,” Friends coach Tom Ruzzi said. “We’re very young, but we have some really good underclassmen.”
Two youngsters who worked up top against the Magic, freshmen Paige Saudek and Avery Goldstein, have promising futures, Ruzzi said.
Mercy’s opponent in the finale is also young and upcoming.
John Carroll weathered the storm in its semifinal on a brilliant run-and-finish by sophomore Nia Christopher, whose left-footed blast with 2:38 left in OT whistled by NDP freshman keeper Delaney Forrester and smacked into the far upper corner.
Christopher’s “Golden Goal” was her 20th of the season, and there wasn’t much Forrester could do to turn it away.
“I tried to make a dive to stop it,” said Forrester, who finished an impressive outing with 24 saves. “But I couldn’t get it.”
“I got the ball at midfield and I saw that the center space was open,” Christopher said. “I didn’t see anyone to pass to, so I thought I’d try it. Time was running out.”
In regulation, the second-seeded Patriots (7-2) struck first when sophomore Ellie Hollin skimmed a shot off senior teammate Erin Scannell to take a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
Freshman defender Isabella Presti tied it on a tap in that eluded sophomore goalie Gwyn Baikauskas right in front of the goal mouth four minutes later and the score held until NDP (4-4) took its first lead, 2-1, early in the second half.
That’s when sophomore forward Christine Scott collected a long pass from senior midfielder Camille McGarvey and lofted it into the goal.
An excellent individual effort by Scannell earned the equalizer in the 32nd minute before she notched her game-high third goal with just over 11 minutes remaining in the half to put John Carroll back on top, 3-2.
Scott scored gain with eight minutes left in regulation to forge the final tie for the Blazers.
Scott nearly gave NDP a late lead on a drive that sailed wide while it took an exceptional save by Forrester to deny Patriot freshman forward Meghan Palm with time slipping away in the final period.
Christopher did the rest.
“Technically, Nia pulled one out of her magician’s tricks,” NDP coach Favio Ivan Barros said. “I mean that’s the way a soccer game should finish. It was just a great shot.”
John Carroll coach Hayley Howe said that Christopher has special skills.
“She brings a different level of play because she’s so creative,” Howe said. “And we had to do something special to get the ball past (Forrester). Now, we’ve made it to the final, and the pressure is off. I’m really looking forward to Saturday.”