UNION TWP. | No red cards, or even yellow cards, were distributed Monday night, but Wheeler still had a lopsided advantage.
The host Bearcats won the pregame coin flip and decided to make Andrean face a particularly bright setting sun for most of the first half of the rematch of last year’s Class A Wheeler Sectional championship.
Times No. 6 Wheeler took advantage of its superior sight lines and the totally legal presence of a blinding celestial body on its side and scored two quick goals to start the match and went on to beat visiting No. 7 Andrean 5-1.
“We definitely played it to our advantage,” said sophomore Lauren Fratzke, who scored Wheeler’s first two goals in the seventh and 12th minutes.
“You definitely have to use that. If you kick it high, she’s going to lose it for a second.”
The angle of the sun caused intense squinting for anyone who dared glance in its direction, and it rattled the 59ers. Andrean keeper Maddie Mandich spent a lot of time holding her hands above her head just to see any action that wasn’t on her half of the pitch.
“Our girls were a little shell-shocked after the first few goals,” Andrean coach Tony Pagorek said. “We had a good sense we could do something, but we got off to a bad start. At halftime we made adjustments, but it was a little too late.”
Fratzke scored on a breakaway on a pass from Terra Philips, who assisted on the first and last goals, to get Wheeler started. A cross shot from in front of the right side into the back left side of the net earned Fratzke her second goal.
“The defense was good, and we were good at getting it from the defense to the forwards,” Fratzke said. “We’re not selfish. We’re just looking for the best opportunities no matter who gets the goals.”
Andrean’s Natalie Nowesnick cut the lead in half with a goal from a scramble in front of the net five minutes after Fratzke’s second, but Wheeler freshman Katie Reif scored on a pass off a rebound from Emma Heinold to make it 3-1.
Around 6:30 p.m., half an hour after the match started, the 12th-man advantage of the sun dissipated, but by then Wheeler (11-1-1) had the lead it wanted.
“The sun is brutal at that time of day,” Wheeler coach Bryan Murray said. “It’s a tough situation, especially with a high ball.”
While Andrean rotates six freshmen into its starting lineup, Wheeler has eight freshmen or sophomores.
The defense of Wheeler’s Madalynn Crowder and Marissa Sosa helped nullify Andrean’s attack and set up Wheeler’s offense with quality shots.
“I think we played with good energy,” Murray said. “We’re still finding our own way. They are athletic and fast, but now they are finding appropriate lanes to create opportunities.”
Pagorek said his young core didn’t quite understand the budding rivalry with their fellow Class A sectional foe. The Bearcats scored on an in-game penalty kick to notch a 1-0 win in the final last year.
“I think it’ll be a different story come sectional time,” Pagorek said.