GREEN — If there is no substitute for experience in the playoffs, one might think Twinsburg girls soccer was at a disadvantage Saturday during its Division I regional final at Green.
After all, Massillon Jackson won last year’s regional final, while Twinsburg, as coach John Garber put it, was "just starting our story."
That story continues for the Tigers, as Twinsburg earned its first state final four berth in school history.
Twinsburg (21-0) got early goals in both halves to score a 3-1 win over the Polar Bears at Green Memorial Stadium. It was the second win of the season for Twinsburg over Jackson (12-4-5), after the Tigers won 2-1 back on Sept. 17.
The Tigers advanced to Division I state state semifinals Tuesday at 7 p.m. vs. Strongville at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School. The Mustangs defeated Toledo Notre Dame 4-0 Saturday.
Tigers coach John Garber was all smiles as he watched his team reach another milestone.
"I’m thrilled for the girls," Garber said. "To do this against Jackson, who won here last year, it’s just fantastic.
"They’re strong team physically," Garber said of the Polar Bears. "We knew winning 50/50 balls would be very important. Once we were able to do that, we were able to set up what I thought were some good chances."
Jackson coach Frank Gagliardi noted the Tigers’ finishing touch in front of goal was the difference in the game.
"I think they were efficient with their chances," Gagliardi said. "They were very organized and disciplined. Our efficiency and passing wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t our best game. They had a lot to do with that with all the pressure they put on us."
Gagliardi was right about the Tigers’ shooting efficiency, as Twinsburg scored three times on just six shots on goal. Jackson was held to just four shots on goal.
In some ways, the game was carbon copy of the Twinsburg’s regional semifinal win over Medina: Jackson had the possession edge during long stretches of the game, but early goals and calm defense led Twinsburg to the victory.
Twinsburg got off to the perfect start, scoring the opening goal in the third minute. First a corner kick from Tigers forward McKenna Donahue was punched away by Jackson goalie Haley Durr for another corner kick.
On the second corner, Donahue hit an outswinger that found the head of Tiger forward Mia Cervenka. Cevenka’s header went across the face of goal and rolled in to make it 1-0.
For much of the rest the first half, the Tigers were hemmed into their own end. However, Twinsburg did not yield a single shot on goal in the first half and kept Jackson forward Izzy Arnold under wraps.
"It was tough. They had a lot of players coming through the midfield," said Tiger midfielder Hannah Pickens. "We tried to stay tight in the middle and slow them down."
Up 1-0 at half and playing with the win at their backs in the second half, the Tigers doubled their lead in the 45th minute.
Pickens got the ball in a tight space at the top of the box, and threaded a short pass to Donahue, allowing Donahue to go one-on-one with Durr. Donahue’s low shot made it 2-0.
"I was just ready for it," Donahue said. "I’m very hyped up for states."
Twinsburg looked to put the game away in the 51st minute, when a long ball through the Polar Bears’ defense allowed junior forward Alli King to run on net. King fired a shot from just inside the box past a charging Durr to make it 3-0.
Tiger fans started celebrating after the third goal, but Jackson did not give up.
In the 62nd minute, Jackson made things a bit interesting, thanks a well-executed goal. Midfielder Peyton Niemi served a ball for the left side to the back post of Twinsburg’s goal, where forward Caitlin Bruni headed it home, giving Tiger goaltender Hannah Zochowski no chance.
It was the first goal Twinsburg had given up in five playoff games and only the ninth goal the Tigers had conceded all season.
However, the Polar Bears’ goal mattered little, as the Tigers’ picked up their possession in Jackson’s end during the final 20 minutes.
Twinsburg finished with a 5-3 edge in corner kicks. Zochowski and Durr each had three saves on the afternoon.
Looking ahead to the state semifinals, Garber said he knows his team will be in for another stiff test vs. Strongsville.
"It’s one of the best teams in the state," Garber said of the Mustangs. "The were No. 1 in the state early in the season and deservedly so. I think both teams are going to be ready to go."