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‘Iron’ Warriors close out Salem, EBC

Salem's Rylee Hutton (10) attempts to take the ball away from West Branch's Bri Thomas (12). Salem's Hanna Gaither (14) and West Branch's Chloe Dennison (21) keep up on the play. (Photo by Anthony Fiuza)

BELOIT — Some teams are born to win big games, but in the case of the West Branch girls soccer team, it knows how to do it yearly.

On Wednesday, the Warriors beat Salem 1-0 in what was essentially the Eastern Buckeye Conference championship game marking the eighth straight season they have earned a conference title.

“This year has been a journey for us. We have a lot of sophomores and juniors starting. We have about two seniors who start for us this year,” West Branch head coach Cheryl Ficco said. “What we learned from last year is teams from around Chagrin Falls are really good at soccer. So, we decided this season we wanted to put ourselves on a path to prepare better for the postseason. We went with the motto ‘iron sharpens iron’.”

West Branch’s Chloe Dennison echoed the importance of embracing tough competition. She also scored the lone goal for the EBC champs (11-3-2, 6-0) in the opening half.

“We started out a little shakey, but we’ve played competitive teams throughout. When you have competition you get better. Coach wanted us to get better as we played harder teams,” Dennison said.

She added that winning another conference crown is huge for her West Branch teammates and the programs legacy.

“It’s great because as you go on, you’ll be remembered as maybe a four-year or three-year EBC champ and it’s just great to be remembered that way,” Dennison said.

The EBC title game brough physical defense from both the Warriors and Quakers, but West Branch was able to get key saves late in the contest from Zoe Sanders.

This was also the sixth shutout in-a-row for West Branch which became a primary objective after a 5-1 loss to Kenston about three weeks ago.

“After we played Kenston, we had a team meeting and made some goals for the rest of the season. We decided we wanted to win out the rest of the season. I guess the girls took it a step further and they decided they weren’t going to allow any goals for the rest of the season,” Ficco said.

Salem fell to 15-2 and 5-1 in the league with the loss and it was the Quakers second defeat in their last four games. Salem began the year 13-0.

“Sort of at a loss for words right now. It was a back and forth game. I was very proud with how we played,” Salem head coach Kent Paulini said. “We did everything we felt we needed to do. We had two hit the crossbar late. We were two, three inches away from a game-tying goal a couple of times.”

Game notes

¯West Branch beat the Quakers in the EBC title game exactly one year ago today, 3-0.

¯Salem is the fifth seed in the Division II Northeast district tournament. The Quakers host 23rd seed Edgewood at 6 p.m. on Monday for a sectional showdown.

¯If the Quakers win, they will face No. 9 Poland next Thursday.

¯West Branch is the seventh seed and will host 22nd seed Harvey at 6 p.m. on Monday in the sectionals

¯If the Warriors win, they visit No. 2 seed Canfield next Thursday.

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