COLUMBUS GROVE — Senior leadership once again paved the way to an Northwest Conference title only this year it was Bluffton’s veteran squad that defeated Columbus Grove, 4-1, to give the Pirates the conference crown Tuesday.
It was Columbus Grove rode its seniors to a NWC championship by beating the Pirates in a last year’s showdown but this year Bluffton returned the favor to go unbeaten in the conference with a 6-0 mark and improved to 12-2 for the season. The Bulldogs drop their first NWC game, 4-1, with one game remaining. Overall, Columbus Grove goes to 9-2-1.
“This is big for the girls,” Bluffton head coach Jamie Mehaffie said. “Last year we came in to our final game with Grove with the title up for grabs and they had whole bunch of seniors and they won it and this year we have a whole bunch of seniors and we won it. It is sort of back and forth.
“I am super happy for the girls. They have put in a lot of work that started back in June with lifting and open field so I am proud of it. They earned it.
Columbus Grove took control of the game early with two in the first 15 minutes of the game.
The first score came after Allison Diller found teammate Karson Hauenstein, who was breaking towards the goal,with a nice crossing pass who swiftly slid it into the back of the net to give the Pirates the early lead approximately eight minutes into the contest.
Diller took the scoring matter into her own hands on the Pirates next score when, despite surrounding by a host of Bulldogs in the box, weaved her way for a shot and struck in for the score with 24:37 showing on the clock in the first half.
“It is always nice to go up 2-0,” Mehaffie said. “Like I have told the girls all season a 2-0 lead is probably the most dangerous lead in soccer. One goal and everybody feels they are back in the game so it was nice to get a bit of insurance goal at the start of the second half.
“It was disappointing to give up the one because one of our team goals was not to give up a conference goal and that is the only one we have given up. I am sure they are upset about that but I think that has already faded a little bit.”
Columbus Grove is known for its ability for a quick strike goal but the Pirates neutralized the Bulldogs’ scorers for most of the game.
Bulldog head coach Chris Halker said, “They have a lot of seniors this year and this is the fastest team we have faced and that was the one thing we were worried about and that was their speed and controlled the ball on our side and we couldn’t get on our offensive side very well. They did a good job of forcing it. We just didn’t clear it like we were supposed to.”
Mehaffie admits they did not change up much defensively.
“We just wanted to contain them,” Mehaffie said. “We hope our midfielders come back and help the defense but you usually get in trouble when you go stabbing at the ball and give up that long ball. But we really didn’t do anything differently.”
The Pirates went up 3-0 about nine minutes into the second half when senior Sami Scoles put one in the for a score with Kendal Giesige and Ella Armstrong assisting on the play.
“Those first two were tough,” Halker said. “Then you get one and you think you can crawl back and turn the tide and they get one more and it wears on your team a little but that is what you get when you play a good team.”
Columbus Grove responded quickly for its first goal less than two minutes later when Lauren Auchmuty headed one on a corner.
But the Bulldogs’ momentum was stunted when Jasi Crawfis bodied one off a corner kick from Scoles to give the Pirates the three-goal lead again. Riley Eachus deliverted the corner that allowed Crawfis to score.
Bluffton keeper Julia Mehaffie had three saves and Columbus Grove goalie Gwen Langhals made 10 saves.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468.