By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — In the battle for the Cross County Conference championship between a pair of young teams Monday night, it all came down to confidence.
And Miami East was the team that had more.
Freshman Paxton Hunley headed in a rebound off of a shot by Whitley Gross for the game’s first goal, sophomore Meadow Powers added an insurance goal in the second half and East’s defense did the rest, leading the Viking girls soccer team past Bethel in a 2-0 victory in Monday’s conference championship game at Miami East High School.
With the win, Miami East improved to 8-5-1 overall and 6-0 in the CCC, winning its first league title since 2015.
“We’re super excited,” first-year Miami East coach Heidi Perry said. “I knew the girls could totally pull this off. They just had to believe in themselves. This was a goal from the beginning of the season for them. They set their goal, and they achieved it. We’re very, very excited.”
Bethel, meanwhile, fell to 9-4 overall and 5-1 in the CCC, missing the chance to win its first league title since 2009.
“We’re young, and we’re still lacking that kind of confidence — and it cost us this game,” Bethel coach Dru Bescoe said. “Hats off to them. They went to the ball harder, they won those balls, they did what they needed to win and we didn’t do it. You’ve got to give them credit.”
And even though the Bees controlled most of play for the game’s first 20 minutes, it wasn’t until the Vikings struck with 12:56 to go in the first half that either team truly threatened.
Senior Whitley Gross fired off a 30-yard shot that seemed like it was going to arc over the Bethel goalie’s head and into the net. But she was able to tip it up — only to have it hit off the crossbar and stay in the field of play, where the Vikings’ Hunley was waiting for it. The freshman casually headed the ball into the undefended half of the net, giving East a 1-0 advantage that it would carry into halftime.
“Obviously, we wanted the first shot to sink in,” Perry said. “But we’re used to, if it doesn’t work, reconfiguring and recomposing ourselves and trying again. That’s soccer — it’s a lot of try, try again.”
And the second half played out very similarly, with Bethel maintaining possession for roughly 20 minutes but never putting together any dangerous attacks.
The Vikings eventually retook momentum and began to build it up until the 10:43 mark, when senior Savannah Nehring hit another high, long shot that this time bounced in front of the Bethel goalie. This time, Powers was able to win the ball in the air with a header and redirect it in to give the Vikings some insurance with a 2-0 lead.
“Both shots were just beautiful tonight — beautiful crosses and headers, just quality, quality shots,” Perry said. “Stuff that we practice. They just have to trust themselves to know that they can do it, and they did. It was amazing.”
“I was super proud of our offense tonight. They are young, but their movement tonight was great. They just played like I know they can play. It was awesome to see them come out here and do this.”
For the Bees, the first goal didn’t shake Bescoe’s confidence. The second one, though, proved to be a backbreaker.
“Nothing changes,” Bescoe said. “We still had to score anyway, so what’s the difference? I really thought we would score two in the second half. But their defense did disrupt what we were trying to do.”
And that has been the Vikings’ M.O. all season long.
“Our defense is just so strong,” Perry said. “They will play the whole field. They’ll take it all the way down the field if necessary, and our mids will switch. Such great communication between them. They worked as a team, and I love to see that. The defenders are great at carrying and have confidence, too, and I think it invigorates the team when they step up. Our defensive line is just tough.”
Miami East hosts Piqua Saturday in its regular season finale before hosting a first-round tournament game against Franklin Monroe on Oct. 16. Bethel, which ended its regular season Tuesday night against Anna, has a first-round bye in the tournament, hosting the winner between Dayton Christian and Brookville on Oct. 20.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.