WHITEHALL It sometimes takes a little time to get adjusted to the play of the game for a young team.
Sabrina Mertz feels that's what sometimes happens with the Northwestern soccer team. Mertz scored the second of four unanswered Tiger goals as they rolled to a 4-1 victory over Pleasant Valley in the District 11 consolation game at Whitehall High School Thursday.
The victory earns Northwestern (20-2) its second straight trip to the state tournament.
The Bears looked like the team destined to go marching onto states early in the first half. A little over ten minutes in, Emma Sabovic pushed a through ball, splitting two defenders, and found the feet of Emily Schlogl in stride. Schlogl took one touch and slotted it far post under the arms of Tigers keeper Beth Pierce.
Pleasant Valley didn't keep that momentum long, however. Northwestern won a free kick from about thirty yards out. Rachel Kester, who missed a penalty kick two minutes earlier, redeemed herself by chipping the kick over the head of Sarah Elmontacir and into the net for the game-tying goal.
Nearly four minutes later, the Tigers pounced again. Trista Cunningham slipped a pass inside the eighteen to Mertz. She took one turn and fired it into the upper 90 part of the net. That proved to be the winning goal.
"Sometimes I feel that we get off to a slow start, and maybe we just need a goal to get our heads back in it," said Mertz. "That's what happened there. After we scored, we really got focused and stepped up. I just had a lucky shot, but I'm glad it helped the team win."
The goals were a bit unlucky for Pleasant Valley, who had played well for a better part of the half, and really pressured the Tigers.
"Up until our goal, and into the second half, we kept things simple," said Pleasant Valley head coach Tim Hinton. "We seemed to have controlled the game. But you know, they're a good team, and they kept battling. Nothing is going to come easy with them. They just regained their composure, and started controlling the flow of the game in their favor. Even after that missed pk, they had all the momentum."
The Bears came out fast, again, after the second half whistle blew. Sabovic ripped a shot from just outside the eighteen that was juggled by Pierce and just picked up before Dianna Connor could get a touch onto it.
That was the best scoring opportunity the Bears would get in the second half.
The Tigers held much of the possession from that point on and eventually converted it into another goal.
Michaela Lacek headed a corner kick straight downward, but when the Pleasant Valley defense tried to clear the zone, it hit off Haylee Kubat, and she ripped a shot into the top of the goal.
The Tigers cruised from there, connecting on passes and keeping the ball away from a potential counter attack.
With 4:59 remaining, freshman Sarah Segan lifted a shot over Elmontacir for the fourth Tigers goal.
"It feels really good to make it to states," noted Mertz, another freshman. "This will be my first time, so hopefully it will be a really good experience. I'm excited. We want to finish off the season really strong. Hopefully we can get another win for the seniors. I know they really want it."
The loss ends a successful season for Pleasant Valley, which made it to the final four and were just one win away from a berth in the state tournament. Hinton knows his team had a special year, but feels they can compete with the big teams.
"We had a great season," added Hinton. "We're at the point where we know we can play with these guys, we just need to take that next step and start winning the big games. We can earn some respect though."
Northwestern will open up play in the state tournament at a time and destination to be determined next Wednesday.