GIRLS SOCCER: Claremore dominates Sapulpa, advances to 5A quarterfinals

Apr. 30—Despite the cluster of players surrounding her, Ava Rooney remained singularly focused on the ball.

Seizing the opportune moment, the forward navigated the congested goalie box and collected a cross from Avery Roseberry, swiftly propelling the ball into the net from close range. The goal with 12:39 remaining served as the game-clincher as Claremore defeated Sapulpa 2-0 in the first round of the Class 5A state tournament Monday night at Lantow Field.

"You have to focus on not the goalie or the players, but just exactly where the ball is in the air," Rooney said. "Your main focus is the ball."

The Lady Zebras showcased their dominance from the first whistle, controlling possession and keeping Sapulpa on the defensive throughout the game.

Despite the Lady Chieftains' formidable offensive reputation of 2.6 goals per game, they found themselves unable to penetrate the solid defense. Claremore goalkeeper MacKenzie Bacon had a relatively quiet night as a result, facing only three shots on goal while expertly thwarting the two attempts that needed saving.

"She's actually not a goalkeeper; she's a field player, and she's been a stud and really stepped up for us," Claremore coach Miranda Thore said. "But there's only so much that she can do. So we really kind of work together and say, 'Hey, how can we help her as much as possible?'

"The less likelihood of her touching the ball, it's a little bit better for us, honestly."

The Lady Zebras amassed 19 shots on goal, 11 of which came in the first half alone. Rooney led the charge with her first goal nine minutes into the game off an assist from Abby Tietz, setting the tone for her team's relentless attack that also featured quality shots from Shayla Widener, Emily Klucevsek and Annie Payne.

Sapulpa goalkeeper Abby Admire put up a valiant effort in defeat, making 11 saves to keep her team in the game.

"We really try and strive to get early goals because it really breaks down the other team mentally," Rooney said. "We usually say, 'Try to score in the first five minutes,' so we (basically) accomplished that."

The victory was a testament to Claremore's evolution throughout the season.

Fine-tuning their formations and focusing on maintaining possession proved to be key factors in the Lady Zebras' success, improving upon their 3-2 victory over the Lady Chieftains on March 5.

"We've had kids really step up and be more confident in holding the ball," Thore said. "I think in the early stages of us playing, it was just kind of like a turn-and-kick type thing. That's one thing that we really do a lot of in practice — we're really trying to be more possession-oriented. We knew going into this game that it was going to be a physical game. It was going to be a tough battle, but if we kept possession of the ball, it's ultimately not in our net, so that was kind of our game plan."

Looking ahead, Claremore faces a daunting challenge in the state quarterfinals against undefeated Carl Albert at 6 p.m. Thursday at Gary Rose Stadium in Midwest City. The Lady Titans are 13-0 on the season but needed penalty kicks to escape Santa Fe South in the first round.

Despite a 2-0 loss to CA on March 9 in the Muskogee Tournament final, the Lady Zebras are confident in their abilities, especially with a healthy roster this time around. Notably, Tietz missed the first meeting between the teams, and Rooney was still recovering from a bout with the flu.

"Revenge is definitely what we're looking forward to," Thore said. "I definitely think whenever we played them in the Muskogee Tournament, it was not our best performance. We had a lot of kids out sick that weekend, so I hope (CA is) not prepared. We're different. We had Abby Tietz out that game, and we had Ava coming back from being sick. I think she had the flu.

"Hopefully we can rest up these next few days, kind of fine-tune some things and be ready to play."

However, the team faces uncertainty as Thore is expecting to give birth to a baby boy within the coming days. With the state quarterfinals approaching, the possibility of her going into labor during the game or the four-hour round-trip commute looms large.

Nevertheless, Thore remains hopeful that her son will wait until after the season concludes before making his grand entrance into the world.

"I think he knows," Thore said. "I think he's trying to wait and allow me to be here for the playoffs. If I can be there, I will definitely be there. We've had stressful games this season, and it hasn't happened. The parents and I have talked, and I think it's a little bit more like once the season is done, I'll be able to relax — then maybe he'll come."