Soccer drama: Gardner’s goal helps Warren edge Jackson 3-2

VINCENT – Thursday evening’s girls soccer match between Warren and Jackson had all the makings of a 2-2 tie.

Raelyn Gardner had something else in mind – a win for the Lady Warriors.

With a little over 20 seconds left in the match, Warren’s Natalie O’Dell attempted a shot that appeared to be headed to the left of the goal. Jackson keeper Haley Murrell had it measured, but she lost her footing and the ball bounced over her head. Gardner swooped in and punched the ball into the back of the net with her left foot to put Warren up 3-2 with 18 seconds left in the game.

From there, the Lady Warriors were able to hold off the Ironladies for a big Southeastern Ohio Athletic League victory, and Gardner couldn’t have been more excited.

“Well, I cried, so,” Gardner said, laughing.

“She (Murrell) slipped and I left-footed it. I’m not a left-footed person so that was awesome for me. I’m so happy.”

“It was unfortunate for the goalie,” said Warren head coach Ekrem Eksi. “This is soccer. The ball has its own life and goes its own way. That’s what happened.”

Early on, it seemed like Warren would cruise to victory. After both teams saw several shot attempts come up just short for the first 25 minutes of the game, Warren’s Raeli Barnes finally put a dent in the scoreboard on a free kick.

Gardner set it up, getting the ball into open space along the right side of the field before being taken down by a Jackson defender, setting up the free kick. Barnes booted it to the left side of the net to give the Warriors a 1-0 advantage.

Later, with just under five minutes left in the first half, Barnes struck again.

This time it was O’Dell dribbling up the right side of the field. O’Dell attempted a shot that was blocked by Murrell but deflected to the left of the net where Barnes was positioned. She kicked it into the back of the net to put the royal blue and white up 2-0.

Jackson, led by Parker Davis, began to heat up in the second half.

Just three minutes after halftime ended, Davis struck for an unassisted goal to cut the Ironladies’ deficit to one goal.

That deficit was erased 11 minutes later when Davis knocked in another score, just over the hands of Warren keeper Janelle Barth, to knot the match up at 2-all.

Barth, who worked a clean first half, was relieved by backup keeper Rachel Grogg midway through the second half. Grogg recorded five saves down the stretch and kept Jackson off the board.

“She did a good job,” Eksi said.

“When the ball came to her, she didn’t make any mistakes. It wasn’t so many hard balls came to her but she didn’t make mistakes. She’d catch every ball that came to her and that was a plus for her. I’m happy for that.”

That set up O’Dell and Gardner for the improbable finish.

“I think the first half we played very well,” Eksi said. “They (Jackson) are a good team and I knew from last year that they were gonna be a good team.

“We played very well the first half. The second half we were flat. We were not pressing the ball the way that we were in the first half. We weren’t passing the ball the way that we were. We made some defensive mistakes, but we didn’t give up. We continued to push and then that goal happened.”

The importance of a win rather than a tie is huge. As a reward for coming through with the W, Eksi gave his players Friday off before Saturday’s home contest against Lancaster Fisher Catholic.

“We all went crazy,” said Gardner of the moment the game-winner went into the net. “It’s a team sport. I love all my teammates. I’m just so happy.”

Warren improved to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEOAL with the victory.