By BRIAN EVERSON
Thursday night’s victory by Troy wasn’t always a beauty contest in terms of performance, but how it looked will be less than relevant if there’s a trophy lifted by the district hosts Saturday afternoon.
Maria Shuwayhat’s second-half goal proved to be all the Colts needed to secure a place in the district final as they defeated Royal Oak 1-0.
The Ravens conceded a free kick from somewhere beyond 30 yards, and Troy (7-8-4) made the most of the opportunity as Royal Oak’s defenders lost Shuwayhat on a deft run behind the line that allowed her to connect on a header from six yards out that beat the goalkeeper with 28:02 to play.
“We always work on our set pieces, and obviously that worked out the way we wanted it to,” Troy coach Dan Troccoli said.
Troccoli said that despite edging out Royal Oak, the output wasn’t as good as Tuesday’s 4-2 besting of Birmingham Seaholm, viewed by some as the favorite, if any, in a wide open district.
“It was not our day today to play good soccer. We played awesome on Tuesday, and today was a letdown. And they know it. We have to be more aggressive and play possession-type soccer, win balls, and make better decisions,” Troccoli said.
The Colts were able to out-shoot Royal Oak 4-1 in the first half, and seemed the more likely of the two to pull ahead before finding the decisive tally.
Several other good chances arose after the break for Troy, though, despite not being able to convert. Alex Lillie’s cross to Brianna Nogoy at the far post six minutes into the second half came close, as did another free kick that the Colts attempted later in the half where Shuwayhat not only drew the foul from 20 yards out, but almost scored again with a header from Clare McAuliffe’s but watched as her effort bounced between the soccer and football crossbar and onto the top of the net.
Royal Oak didn’t see too much of the ball after the goal, only compiling several shots throughout the game as senior goalkeeper Lindsey Bolas recorded the shutout.
Young players have proved to be critical contributors for Troy in the playoffs so far. Two freshmen, Jessica Chen and Marissa Young, each scored in the victory over Seaholm.
“It is districts, so we do bring kids up from JV, and they can play,” Troccoli said.
Troy will take on Bloomfield Hills in the district final, but Troccoli was dismissive of a 3-0 loss to the BlackHawks in the final game of the regular season, indicating that the result meant little with the league standings already wrapped up.
Troccoli said if his team plays more like Tuesday, good things should be in store for the Colts.
“It ebbs and flows,” he said. “If we can play like [we did Tuesday] on Saturday, we’ll be good.”
Across town, Athens also took care of business as host of its own district.
Playing a semifinal of their own, the Red Hawks piled on a trio of goals early in the first half and duplicated the scoring in the second 40 minutes to beat Sterling Heights Stevenson 6-0.
Freshman Alli Leonard put Athens on the board within the first minute, and senior Ashley Leonard added two more before the break. The elder Leonard completed a hat trick just over four minutes after halftime when her shot from 10 yards out was slowed by Stevenson’s goalkeeper but pinged off the left post and over the line.
Jordyn Rauser and Jenny Demattei added the other two goals late in the second half to help move Athens into a district final with Ford, who earned a spot with an 8-0 victory over Warren Cousino.
If Troy and Athens were both to win, the rivals would meet in a regional semi- final Tuesday night at Swinehart Field in Utica.