STOW — Extra incentive isn’t needed when Stow-Munroe Falls and Cuyahoga Falls clash, but there was plenty of motivation when the two schools’ girls soccer teams met Wednesday at the Stow Soccer Stadium.
After beating Wadsworth 3-1 on Monday, Stow knew a win over its arch rival would secure the Suburban League National Conference title. For Falls, victory would secure the Black Tigers’ first winning season in years — and spoil their rivals title hopes.
With a chance for their first league title in nearly a decade on the line, Stow left nothing to chance.
The Bulldogs got stronger as the game went on, scoring a 3-0 win over Falls to claim the title. It was Stow’s first division title in girls soccer since joining the Suburban League and first since winning a division title in the Northeast Ohio Conference in 2010.
Stow finished the regular season at 11-5, 6-1 in the National Conference, while Falls finished at at 6-6-4, 1-4-2 in the National Conference.
Reflecting on how his team more than doubled its win total from last season, Stow coach Jim Dudones gave credit to his players.
"To start with, the cupboard was not bare when I got here," Dudones said. "They’re a very talented group. I don’t know how much I was part of it, other than to say the girls worked very hard with me.
"Cuyahoga Falls played a great game," He added. "That said, that was awesome."
Falls coach Greg Shoults noted the Black Tigers also doubled their win total from a season ago, but Falls’ lack of finishing early cost them.
"We had couple of opportunities early, especially that one where their goaltender was way out and Emma Brustownski was in," Shoults said. "We didn’t take advantage of them. They didn’t do anything different than we expected. They gave the ball to us a lot, but we didn’t do enough with it."
Falls came into the contest hobbling, as defender Ashley Miller was down with a knee injury, while starting goaltender Ava Bowser suffered an ankle injury away from the soccer field. Senior Sydney Knepper was forced into the net and did a solid job, finishing with seven saves.
Falls pushed the tempo and was jamming Stow for nearly every 50/50 ball in the first 20 minutes of the game. Dudones said such a push was not unexpected.
"Falls is a very senior-heavy team," Dudones said. "That was their way of saying, ‘This is it for us.’"
Falls’ best chance of the game came in the 20th minute when missed clearance from Stow’s defense allowed Brustowski to have a breakaway on net. However, Stow goalie Tayloe Galioto ran out from her line and made a save at full stretch.
That would be Falls’ lone shot on goal and Taylor’s lone save on the night.
A hustle play from Stow junior winger Paige Neely set up the first goal. Neely fought with two Falls defenders in the box for a loose ball, which squirted to the left side of the box. Junior forward Michela Del Farro ran onto to the loose ball at put it home to make it 1-0.
"Once we get a ball in the goal, its like the floodgates open for us. Michela works so hard," said Stow captain Jane Freeman. "We like to joke and call her a dog, because all she thinks about is ‘Ball!’"
"Our forwards were getting frustrated with the officials not calling fouls," Shoults said. "They were trying to hold us because we’re fast at forward."
Up 1-0 at the half, Stow piled on the pressure early in the second half.
Off a corner kick in the 43rd minute, Freemen sent a header that bounced off the crossbar. Stow recycled the ball and Freeman got another chance, sending a low shot from outside box that skipped under Knepper and into the net to make it 2-0.
"She was a beast," Dudones said of Freeman. "She did every thing we wanted her to tonight, especially with the ball winning."
Stow pushed to get the third goal, but Freeman was denied a second goal by the post. Falls also had a couple of dangerous free kicks in the second half, but the Black Tigers did not get a shot on net in the second half.
Stow erased all doubt in the 70th minute when the Bulldogs earned a free kick about 30 yards out from goal.
Sophomore Sadie Lenc stepped up and launched a perfect high shot when skimmed the bottom of the crossbar and went in to make it 3-0.
"That was probably here best game of the season," Dudones said of Lenc. "She was absolutely everywhere tonight, making passes and shutting down player. And, of course the third goal was just about perfect. I am blessed to coach all these talented girls."
Stow finished with 12-2 edge in shots on goal on a 6-5 edge in corner kicks.
"We’ve still got a positive goal difference for the season," Shoults said. "That’s not easy when you play in our league. We’ve just got to focus on the postseason now."
Both coaches noted the slate was wiped clean for the playoffs, as both teams will play in the Division I Solon district tournament.
Falls, which was given the No. 8 seed in the tournament, will open the postseason by taking on ninth-seeded Kent Roosevelt Monday at Laybourne Field at 7 p.m. If victorious, Falls would play top-seeded Walsh Jesuit in a sectional final Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, Stow was given the No. 4 seed in the district tournament and first-round bye. The Bulldog will host the winner of the Hudson-Bedford game Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Stow Soccer Stadium.
"Boldly, the goal is seven more games," Dudones said. "in reality, it’s one game at a time. We just want to go out and play as hard as we can."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_GHO