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Warren Girls Soccer Holds Off Bradford, Will Meet Mars Next Week

Warren's Kyleigh Wilson (in front) fends off Bradford's Keslea Austin while goaltender Alyssa Andersen goes up for a save in Saturday's PIAA prequarterfinal play-in at War Memorial Field. Times Observer photos by Jay Young

In what was one of the most hard-fought games of the year, Warren girls soccer was able to hold off a late charge from Bradford at War Memorial Field on Saturday afternoon, claiming a 2-1 win over the Owls (16-1), and earning a date with District 7 Class 3A champion Mars in the PIAA quarterfinals on Nov. 14.

Relying on its high-powered offense for much of this undefeated 18-0 season, Warren was faced with a mirror image of itself against Bradford’s talented duo of Mackenzie Lucas and Kelsea Austin.

In the end, the Dragons were led to a narrow victory thanks in large part to the outstanding play of goaltender Alyssa Andersen and sweeper Alyssa Fuchs, the stalwart of Warren’s defensive line.

“Kyleigh (Wilson) and Georgie (Bickling) and a couple of the other girls, I know them pretty well,” Bradford coach Warren Shaw said. “I knew what we were getting into, it was going to be a good game. Stylistically we are very similar. We try to do some of the same things.”

Some of those things include early pressure, which the Owls began right away when Austin fired a free kick on net that was grabbed by Andersen, following that up with a shot on the next possession that was ripped high of the net.

From those early moments, it was clear that the Dragons would be facing a new challenge defensively.

“I know those players, so we knew that we had to control them,” Warren head coach Jeremy Bickling said. “They are good with the ball at their feet so the girls knew that they had to defend as a unit. They couldn’t give up spaces, they couldn’t give up easy passes. They had to watch for runs. So it really was just a team defense challenge tonight and the girls really stepped up.”

Warren would catch a break in the seventh minute of play, as Wilson tossed a throw-in to the 18-yard box that was tipped with a hand ball.

Georgie Bickling, one of the Dragons’ most consistent shooters, was chosen for the penalty kick and quickly struck a low ball into the left side of the twine, past goaltender Lea Kakolewski to make it 1-0 for the hosts.

Warren has given opponents fits with set plays all year long, and would do so again on Saturday shortly after Bickling’s opening tally.

Warren's Georgie Bickling fires home a penalty kick to give the Dragons a 1-0 lead.

Halfway through the first period, Bickling would take back-to-back corner kick attempts, finding Paige Johnson on the doorstep the second time for a gritty finish and a 2-0 lead.

Facing a two-goal deficit, the Owls would step on the gas in the final 20 minutes of the opening half, as Lucas ripped a free kick in close that was cleared away.

That chance was followed by a corner kick from Chloe Shaw that was also struck out of danger. Bradford would pick up another free kick at the buzzer, but Andersen would corral that in as well.

The junior goalkeeper would come up big in the first few minutes of the second half once again, snagging a head-ball by Austin out of the air that was hit right on target via corner kick.

“She doesn’t get a lot of reps but she is one of the, if not the best goalkeeper in District 10,” Bickling said of his netminder. “She is just amazing. She’s fearless, she can get balls that you don’t think any other keeper could get to. She’s just so aware of where the shots are going. She is so aware of where the ball could actually be played to be dangerous.”

Austin and Lucas would continue to probe and prod the Dragon defense, looking for any openings and eventually getting a break of their own with 27:14 remaining when Georgie Bickling was docked for a hand ball in the box.

Maddi Cowburn was chosen to take that try, finishing off the penalty kick with a shot inside the right post to bring the Owls within a goal.

With victory in sight, Warren elected to shift some players around for defensive support while Bradford continued to look for chances to even the match.

Time and time again Andersen and Fuchs would hold strong in the back, turning away free kicks and crowds of Owls in the 18-yard box as time wound down.

“My back line was just amazing tonight,” Bickling said. “They killed balls when they needed to. They didn’t let fouls that happened get them down. They just went back and defended. She (Fuchs) is a super talented player. We moved her around a little bit just to kind of see where things fit the best at the beginning of the year. We moved her back there maybe three weeks ago and she’s really done a fantastic job. I’m just so proud of them. It is almost emotional because they just battled. We haven’t had a ton of subs and tonight we had to rely on players — Ella (Ordiway) is playing dinged up and we had to move players around. Kyleigh and Kyra (Wotorson), I know they love to be up front and score and help us but they had to come back and help on defense. Just their commitment is amazing. To see them play their hearts out tonight, and to really play a great soccer match.”

The Dragons will now prepare for a quarterfinal rematch with Mars, the top ranked Class 3A team in the state.

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