When Westminster and Stratford played in late April, Stratford returned home from Augusta the victim of its worst loss of the season.
Stratford picked the perfect time for revenge, and in a big way.
Stratford was more aggressive in control from the start, getting two goals from Malone Slappey and Allie Hale and a superb night in goal from Sarah Dennis to take a 5-1 win Saturday night at Cavalier Fields in the GISA Class AAA girls soccer championship.
“We don’t do things by halves,” Stratford head coach James Jordan said about the convincing reversal of fortune from the most recent meeting with Westminster. “That was what, a 14-goal turnaround?
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and this year, they were the best. Until (Saturday).”
It wasn’t all that long ago, April 26, that Westminster put on a clinic in pounding Stratford 9-1. When the two met at FPD’s Viking Cup in early March, they played to a 2-all stalemate.
There wasn’t much doubt Saturday night.
“I think we played a lot more as a team,” Hale said. “We knew we had to work 12 times harder. Everybody stepped up.”
And there wasn’t much to analyze, in the mind of Westminster head coach Mike Freace.
“They just played better,” he said. “They were more aggressive. They just played better than us. Congratulations to them. They played awesome.”
Stratford’s season ends at 15-6-1 while Westminster, the defending champion, finished 15-2-3.
Slappey broke the scoreless stalemate with a shot from the left side off of a long kick from Lane Bowden, Slappey finding an opening into the left side of the net at the 16:38 mark.
Kendall Cowart found the ball at her feet and a crease through a traffic jam of bodies and put it in about five minutes later for a big 2-0 advantage.
“We played a more physical game,” said Slappey, one of 15 eighth- or ninth-graders on the roster. “Our defense did a really good job marking Annie Speese and Cara Smith and shut them out of the game.”
Stratford never gave Westminster’s superb duo much room to operate, until Speese scored late.
“We knew we had to negate Speese and Smith, and Celia Dunn and Jasmine Pratts did exactly that,” Jordan said. “We marked them out of the game.”
The aggressive Stratford team kept the pressure on and the ball on the Wildcats’ side and went up by an insurmountable 3-0 when Hale hooked one in left-footed from close range.
“At first, the game was even,” Hale said. “But once we started scoring, they started getting down on themselves.”
Jordan and center referee Mark Cleland spent a fair part of the night communicating, Jordan getting a few warnings and a yellow card with about nine minutes left when Cleland sprinted over to Jordan to warn him demonstratively that no more disagreements would be tolerated.
Slappey took a nice pass from the right side from Hale and delivered a fourth goal midway through the second half, so the warning came with the Eaglettes up 4-0, leaving Jordan little to worry about.
“He was just doing his job,” Jordan said diplomatically. “I was wrong.”
Hale made it something of a rout at the 78:03 mark.
It was a physical game, more for Stratford. Assorted Wildcats hit the muddy turf several times and were slow to get up. In one flurry, goalie Kelly Smith collided with teammate Kate Lyn Matthai, and both sat on the turf for a few moments.
“There was nothing that surprised me,” Freace said. “I knew they were going to make it a physical game and try and take some of our skill players out of it, and they did a good job.”
Jordan talked to his team after the postgame celebration.
“That was unbelievable,” he said. “You have set the bar so high.”
Until next season.