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Cards rally past rival Poland in semifinal

CANFIELD — Canfield and Poland hadn’t met in girls soccer since the 2017 season. This was an intense rivalry dubbed the Battle of 224 for years, but when the conferences split, the matchup essentially died.

Tuesday, it was renewed in a Division II District semifinal, and it lived up to its billing with the fans on both sides firmly expressing their emotions and fandom throughout.

In the end, the fourth-ranked Cardinals snuck by with a 2-1 win to advance to the district final against West Branch on Thursday.

“It is a rivalry, and we haven’t played in the regular season the last two years with the conferences splitting,” Canfield coach Phil Simone said. “We haven’t been able to get them on the schedule. Because of that, I think it was a bigger game, especially with us meeting in the tournament. It looked like it meant a lot for both teams. The heart was definitely there for both.”

Poland was no slouch with an 11-0-5 record on the season and goalkeeper Gabby Romano giving up just two goals on the year.

The Bulldogs were aggressive from the outset with a defense that surrounded Canfield for most of the first half, which made things quite difficult to navigate.

“The game plan from them was good from the start,” Simone said. “We don’t see a lot of pressure. They came out like bees swarming the ball. Two to three girls at midfield on every ball. It frustrated us a little bit.”

Avrey Grischow got the Bulldogs on the scoreboard first with a deflection on a corner kick at the 18:58 mark of the first half.

“We just had to make better decisions with our passing,” Simone said. “We were forcing stuff. We were slow to the ball a lot of the time. They were beating us to the ball because we were reacting. When we got more aggressive and got to the ball, we were making things happen.”

It stayed 1-0 throughout the first half as the Cardinals (15-2) were limited to just two shots on goal.

“In the second half, once we talked about it a little bit, we were able to get our composure,” Simone said. “I think we had the ball on their end a lot more than we did in the first half. We were patient enough and got two goals.”

That first goal came on a penalty kick from Ally Stein at the 22:46 mark.

“Do we even know what it was?,” Poland coach Joel Monaco said of the call. “Do we know? I’m just speechless. This is a game that I don’t know how it was officiated. I can’t wrap my head around it. It was very up and down. I feel like both teams played very well. Ultimately, that decided kind of what went on tonight. That’s part of soccer. You can’t control it, and we were making calls for both teams tonight.”

That penalty kick gave the Cardinals new life and essentially stole momentum as the Bulldogs never got another kick on goal.

“Their record and their pedigree speak for itself,” Monaco said. “It was a big game. It was probably the biggest game of the girls’ soccer season. It was very emotional. I’ll leave it at that. I feel like it was extremely emotional on both sides. The coaches were emotional. I don’t hear Phil talk very much. He was talking a lot tonight. It was a good game. It really was. It just felt like a great playoff game.”

The game stayed tied over the next 16 minutes until the ball came out to Camryn Kohout on the left side of the field, where the cross-kick went to Chloe Kalina who knocked the ball in with her head.

“I’ve played with Cam for a long time, so I know she’s going to get down that flank and beat just about anyone out there,” Kalina said. “I knew I just had to make the run and try to get anything I could on it. A lot of times, it just happens to be my head. It’s just what I did. and it felt very good to get that goal.”

And like that, it was 2-1 and the Cardinals never seemed to be rattled despite being down 1-0 before everything went their way.

“Honestly, our team kept pretty calm the entire game,” Kalina said. “At times I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to keep calm. Everyone did a good job of keeping each other together and calm. Ally Stein, I knew she was going to take that PK and make it. She’s so calm, cool and collected when she gets up there. I’m so proud of her.”