By BRANDON SHRIDER
VAN BUREN — Riverdale had won just one road game, in August, entering Saturday’s district quarterfinal at Van Buren.
The Falcons were shut out by the Black Knights on the same field two weeks prior.
But Riverdale ramped up its aggression as the first half wore on, Hanna Breidenbach curled a cross into the net and persisted in the box for a second goal and the Falcons stymied the speed of Van Buren for a 3-0 Division III district quarterfinal win.
“We’ve actually, all season, had a hard time playing on road games,” Riverdale coach Eric Rodriguez said. “We seem to do well at home, but can’t bring that intensity on a road game. And I said, ‘It’s a whopping 20 minutes away.’ I said, ‘Can you please be excited for this game?'”
Riverdale, which advances to a district semifinal for a seventh consecutive season, improved to 10-5-2, having cracked the 10-win threshold in every season this decade. Van Buren, eliminated before the semifinal for the first time since 2010, ended its season on a three-game losing skid and finished 9-6-2.
The Falcons will play at second-seeded Ashland Crestview, a 5-0 winner over Bluffton on Saturday, in a district semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Once the first few minutes passed as both teams set the game’s pace, it was Riverdale maintaining and dominating the possession — as it has much of the season. Passes went to feet and communication opened up combinations.
But the Falcons were able to break their trend of final-third struggles. With 8:18 to play in the first half, after a throw-in along the left sideline close to the corner flag, Breidenbach, Riverdale’s leading scorer, belted a ball from the left corner of the box to the right side.
The ball had some natural bend to it, and with the wind at the back of Riverdale, the ball floated up through the box and into the far right corner over an outstretched Jewelya Hutchison and into the net.
“We’ve done well all season with possession. We’ve had trouble attacking in the final third. I wanted to make sure we got shots off,” Rodriguez said. “I think the wind might’ve helped that a little bit.”
Breidenbach then altered the halftime vibes for both sides when she added another goal with 1:23 left in the half.
After a long ball was played into the box, Hutchison played her line well and charged the ball early to make the scoop away from a charging Breidenbach. But the junior keeper didn’t field it cleanly and Breidenbach rode her shoulder, got her left foot on the ball and poked it into the center of the net before Hutchison recovered.
“They capitalized on an error by us and that’s what you have to do,” Van Buren coach Todd McCracken said. “I don’t think it was the best game in the world played by either team. It’s just they capitalized on two mistakes on our part.”
McCracken challenged his team at halftime, saying it would take three goals for their season not to end. Riverdale’s bench was excited, energetic and relaxed as the players encouraged each other to maintain that same intensity that had eluded them so many times this season.
Haley Frey stretched the lead to 3-0 with 27:23 to play as the Knights were left vulnerable in the back with numbers pushed forward in hopes of springing a chance in their final third. The goal wiped away the possibility of Van Buren eventually pulling its keeper, McCracken said.
“I didn’t think we had the intensity that we had in the Liberty-Benton game. It’s hard to get up like that for every game,” McCracken said, referring to its regular season finale against the Eagles on Oct. 10.
“It just didn’t seem like we got off on the right foot.”
GOALS: (Riv) Hanna Breidenbach 2, Haley Frey 1. SHOTS-ON-GOAL: Riverdale 6, Van Buren 5. SAVES: (Riv) Katy Miller 5; (VB) Jewelya Hutchison 3.
RECORDS: Riverdale 10-5-2, Van Buren 9-6-2.