The Beavercreek High School girls soccer team is one win away from its ultimate goal — a state championship.
Junior forward Marcella Cash scored two goals as the nationally-ranked and undefeated Beavers beat Columbus Bishop Watterson 2-1 in a Division I state semifinal match on Tuesday night at Springfield High School’s Evans Stadium, advancing to the state final for the first time in school history.
»RELATED: Tuesday’s state semifinal scoreboard
“It’s special for the kids because you don’t get many chance to do this,” said Beavers coach Steve Popp. “This may be the only chance they get to do it. I want them to enjoy it. We’ll keep training this week and give it our best shot.”
Beavercreek (23-0), ranked second nationally by USA Today , will play D-I powerhouse Strongsville (19-0-3) at 7 p.m. Friday at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus. The Mustangs beat Twinsburg 1-0 in the other semifinal.
“It’s really exciting,” said Beavercreek senior defender Ella Bianco. “It’s definitely a really nice opportunity, especially my senior year. It’s all I’ve worked for all four years. It’s really exciting and we hope to bring home the gold.”
Cash scored with about 19 minutes remaining in the first half on a rocket from just outside the 18-yard box that beat the keeper to the far post. The Indiana recruit added a second goal with 18 seconds remaining in the first half to give the Beavers a 2-0 lead at the break.
“We needed a second one, definitely,” Bianco said. “2-0 is still a dangerous score, but we definitely needed to put that one away. We should’ve had a few more, but we came out with the win.”
The goals lifted Cash’s season total to 37. She’d played multiple games this season being marked by two or three defenders, Popp said.
“Her ability to go to go with speed and strength and the power she has on her shot, she can really create a lot of opportunities,” he said. “With (junior Diana Benigno) behind her, who is really good at playing the ball through, that really can set her up.”
The Beavers had multiple chances to score in the final 40 minutes, never settling to set back and play defense. Beavercreek has thrived this season when it continually attacks, Popp said.
“We’ve never been a team to do that,” he said. “We knew that Watterson was going to fight, play hard and make a run at us. Our plan was to get that third goal, which would’ve really given us some separation, while at the same time playing smart on defense.”
The Eagles (18-2-2) nearly scored with about eight minutes to go, but were flagged for offsides. Watterson finally broke through with 1:05 remaining in the game. Watterson pressed in the final minute — which Popp called the longest of the entire season — but the Beavers defense held strong to secure the victory.
It was just the fifth goal the Beavers have allowed all season.
“It gives us motivation to work harder in the back,” Bianco said. “We knew they were good on free kicks and that we needed to stay marked down, but we let down in the last minute.”
Popp, who won his 396th game in 39 seasons, celebrated with a dab after the game during the post-game huddle. It’s his first trip to the state final since his second season, where served as an assistant for the Carroll boys team.
“(The dab) was cool,” Bianco said. “He did it last game, too, but he really did it good this time since it was state.”
“I still don’t know what that is,” Popp said. “I think I saw George Clooney do it once, so I figured if he can do it, I can do it.”
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