By Josh Brown
TROY — High-pressure situations don’t bother Troy’s Julianna Williams.
She feeds on them.
“I think I do best under pressure,” the Troy sophomore said. “I think about the games a lot beforehand and put a lot of pressure on myself to do well.”
Williams carried the Trojans past a second straight Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division rival Wednesday night, scoring both goals against Butler, including the game-winner late after the Aviators had tied the game up midway through the second half, to lead the Troy girls soccer team to a 2-1 victory over Butler Wednesday at Troy Memorial Stadium.
The win, the fourth in Troy’s last five games, followed Saturday night’s 2-1 Trojan victory at Sidney — where Williams also scored both Trojan goals.
“Julianna is a special player,” Troy coach Michael Rasey said. “She’s proven the kind of player that she is in these last several games. She’s not only our leading goal scorer but one of the leading goal scorers in Dayton — and not just scoring goals, but important goals. In big moments. Game-winners. And that is the mark of a special player.”
And Wednesday’s win couldn’t have been more important for the Trojans, either.
The victory made them 9-3 overall and 8-0 atop the GWOC American North standings as they look to defend their title. Butler had been one of three teams, along with Troy and Tippecanoe, that entered the night without a loss in division play but fell to 5-1-1 in the division and 5-4-3 overall. Troy now faces Tippecanoe next week.
It was also the fourth straight win for the Trojans over the Aviators, but the closest since a 1-1 tie in 2015. Since 2009, the Trojans are 10-0-2 against Butler.
“It certainly was not pretty,” Rasey said. “We didn’t play our best soccer tonight, that’s for sure. But the mark of a good team is you can play through some of the valleys to pull out wins, and this was one of those kind of games where we had to pull it out when not playing our best.
“Give Butler a lot of credit. Their coach had them ready to play, and they were hungry. They played hard, and they certainly aren’t a team to sleep on. Coming into this game, they were still very much in the running for the division title. They were still undefeated and had the one tie, and they were hungry. And that’s what I told the girls at halftime — they seemed to want it a little more in the first half, and we were fortunate that the score was what it was.”
Fortunate because the Aviators controlled play for the first 30 minutes of the game aside from one run — a run which Williams cashed in on. She took a pass from midfielder Ciena Miller along the left sideline, used a burst of speed to get around a Butler defender, cut toward the goal and tapped the ball past the keeper and in to give Troy a 1-0 lead with 32:18 remaining in the half.
Troy’s defense was the only thing that kept that score close, as Butler’s offense maintained pressure on the Trojan goal for the majority of the first half. At the 19-minute mark, Maddie Mitchell nearly tied the score with a far-post shot, but the ball hit the post itself and the Trojans were just able to clear the ball. The Aviators kept the pressure on, though, and goalie Paige Nadolny made a leaping save on a high-arcing shot — one of her nine saves on the night.
The Trojans mounted a sustained offensive of their own for the final 10 minutes of the half, but the score remained 1-0 at the break. And while the Trojans came out firing in the second and controlled play early on, Butler made one push into Troy territory at 21:52 and made the Trojans pay as Mitchell headed in an Ella Neely corner kick to tie the score at 1-1.
Troy wasn’t worried, though. The added pressure just made it sharper.
“To be honest, with our offensive players, I never feel like anything is out of reach,” Rasey said. “I feel like we can score at any time given the right circumstances. I was disappointed — 1-0 isn’t a comfortable lead by any stretch, and when they scored their goal when they did, I knew the last 20 minutes was going to be a fight.
“We had more energy in the second half. You’ve got to remember that this is our sixth game in nine days and third in five days against tough competition. There was maybe a little lack of energy, but the second half was a different story.”
And with 12:37 remaining in the game, Williams found a little extra energy.
She once again got the ball along the left sideline and, just like on her first goal, carried it up the line and around a Butler defender, cutting toward the middle of the field at a tough angle and hitting a shot that this time the Butler keeper got her hands on — but it slipped right through and inside the far post to give Troy a 2-1 lead.
“I think I just wait for the perfect moment to go by them,” Williams said of her burst of speed to get around defenders. “It’s all about the first touch you take toward the goal.”
“That goal was a pure effort goal,” Rasey said. “She wanted it, and somehow she managed to get it in.”
From there, the Troy defense limited Butler’s chances and preserved the win.
Troy will get one more tune-up before Wednesday’s GWOC American North championship game against Tippecanoe, traveling to Beavercreek Monday. Butler, meanwhile, will look to bounce back at Milton-Union Monday before traveling to Sidney Wednesday.
“That’s also the mark of a good team, rising to the occasion when you need it the most. And I’m proud of the girls for the way they did that tonight,” Rasey said.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.