By JAMIE BAKER
VAN BUREN — Playing its second rivalry game in the span of 72 hours, one might think Liberty-Benton’s girls soccer team may have been ripe for an upset on Wednesday.
Not the Eagles.
A pair of goals to break a scoreless tie halfway through the first half set the tone as state-ranked Liberty-Benton took care of rival Van Buren 3-0 in a North Central Ohio Soccer Association matchup on the Black Knights’ pitch.
Liberty-Benton, the No. 9 team in the latest Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches’ Association Division III poll, played Archbold to a 0-0 tie on Monday.
The Bluestreaks and Eagles split a pair of regional finals the past two seasons.
There was no time to reflect on Monday’s match with a road test against the Black Knights.
Liberty-Benton coach Mark Pagano knew his girls would be ready to play.
“The girls have always been up on the game and we really didn’t talk about it. In the back of my mind, I knew they would be up for Van Buren,” said Pagano, whose Eagles haven’t lost in their last 28 regular-season matches, having posted a 25-0-3 mark in that span.
“You throw out the records and always expect a good game when we match up with Van Buren.”
The win was also Liberty-Benton’s 10th straight in NCOSA play, and sixth straight in matchups against the Black Knights, as it improved to 6-0-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference.
Van Buren, which has played a difficult schedule to start its season, fell to 3-3-1 and 0-1.
It was the Black Knights, though, who had the best early-scoring opportunity.
Liberty-Benton sophomore Allie Hiegel, who has played well in goal replacing all-Ohio keeper Sophie Aschemeier who is out until early October with a broken thumb, deflected a shot by Van Buren freshman forward Belle Miller five minutes into the match. Gabby Gearhart’s follow-up shot on the rebound missed the mark as the Black Knights came up empty.
“We talk about that all the time. Sometimes you get 20 shots off and score five goals, but in a game like this you need to take advantage of every opportunity,” Van Buren coach Todd McCracken said.
“We’ll work on that. We played pretty well. Our speed of play was a little lacking. They are a very skilled team and we just have to keep working to get to that level.”
Strong play from its midfield allowed the Eagles to dominate possession for much of the first half.
It finally paid dividends with 31:00 remaining in the first half, when sophomore Olivia Bodie rifled a shot past Van Buren all-conference goalkeeper Jewelya Hutchison into the right side of the net to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Junior Alexis Rickenbacher was credited with the assist.
Rickenbacher provided the Eagles a 2-0 cushion less than 4 minutes later with her team-leading 10th goal of the season on an assist from Bodie.
The Eagles just missed a chance for a third goal before halftime.
Van Buren senior defender Alyssa Potteiger thwarted Bodie’s sprint to the goal with a nifty sliding save that booted the ball beyond the backline before Bodie could square up for a shot.
Pagano credited L-B’s defense, who along with Hiegel has recorded five straight shutouts, with keeping the Black Knights’ attack at bay.
“At times we were dominant in the midfield, and at times, I think they were dominant in the midfield. They had more bodies in there to sustain their attack for much of the game. Our defense has been very solid all year and we were able to counteract that and at least slow them down today,” Pagano said.
Chloe Kin capped the scoring with a goal with 31:42 remaining in the contest on Bodie’s sixth assist of the year.
Van Buren had an opportunity to get on the scoreboard late, but senior forward Hannah Missler’s header was just off the mark with 7:00 left in the game.
Liberty-Benton finished with an 11-1 edge in shots-on-goal. Hutchison was up to the task for the Black Knights as she recorded eight saves. Hiegel, meanwhile, registered one save for the Eagles.