WEIRTON - For the second time in three games, Christina Conforti energized the Madonna girls soccer team.
This time around, her big boot wasn't enough.
Conforti scored a goal with five minutes remaining in the Class AA-A Region 1 championship against Fairmont Senior. The shot curled around from 25 yards out and landed in the net.
EDGED BY THE BEARS — Madonna soccer players Rachel Grubbs (12) and Hannah Bargar (5) try to make a play on the ball during first half action of the Class AA-A Region 1 championship game on Thursday at Jimmy Carey Stadium. Ivey Nucilli (1) and Gabi Mascaro (5) of Fairmont Senior defend on the play. The Polar Bears beat the Blue Dons 2-1 to advance to the state tournament in Beckley.
-- Matthew Peaslee
On Oct. 22, Conforti scored the game-winning goal in overtime to advance to a sectional final.
"It was exciting - again," said Blue Dons coach Bob Kolanko. "The last five minutes of this one were very exciting, I don't care what team you were rooting for."
Two goals earlier in the half provided a cushion to Fairmont Senior and the Polar Bears escaped Jimmy Carey with a 2-1 win. They now face Sissonville, which beat Charleston Catholic on Thursday in Region 4, on at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 8 in Beckley.
"Once we got the 2-0 lead it was all about playing out the time," said Fairmont coach Ryann Moore. "It was wet, it was cold and we needed to keep it moving.
"Our defense is definitely tough so for them to sneak one back there, it woke us up."
Still, Conforti's late strike provided a new edge which the Polar Bears adjusted with.
"It's not that we weren't playing panicky, but we didn't want them to score again," said Fairmont senior forward Gabi Mascaro. "We dropped two girls back on defense after that. We didn't care about scoring, we just wanted to waste time and finish it off."
Mascaro took a shot at Madonna goaltender Tessie Tokash with just over 35 minutes remaining in regulation. The ball bounced off a kneeling Tokash and right to Sofia Sansalone of the Polar Bears, who struck it through for the first goal.
"The past few times I ran onto it, the ball was knocked away not to where I was," said Sansalone, a sophomore. "I ran on to it that time."
Fairmont had similar chances in the first half. Though with only three shots on goal, two were still in play after Tokash's initial touch.
"If we would have been crashing the net the first time we would have three or four early goals," Moore said. "It was a wet ball and we shoot hard anyway so it was hard for the keeper to make a clean save. If we would've been there, there would have been easier goals."
Tressa Bonasso, a sophomore, scored the Polar Bears' second goal.
"I really think it took down Madonna's confidence," Sansalone said. "They had a lot because we weren't playing to our potential."
Leanne Grubbs took two early corner kicks in the first half and Shelby Kirk had a shot on goal within the first 15 minutes. Grubbs had another shot on goal for Madonna, which finishes the year at 12-9-2.
"The first half we tried and tried and just couldn't get the ball in the back of the net," Kolanko said. "In the second half, (Fairmont) came out and figured out the way to beat us.
"They took shots and everything they scored was on a rebound. We knew that's how they played. They get the ball in deep and go for the rebound. We followed them in in the first half but didn't follow in the second half. That's all."
The Polar Bears (19-2-1) were whistled offsides five times in the first half and were not called for it in the second half. They finished with 12 shots, six on goal.
"They're a very good team," Kolanko said. "I can't be more proud of my girls. They hung with them.
"We're a small school from Weirton going against the big kids from down south and we hung with them. I couldn't be happier."
Conforti, Kirk and Alayna Macaluso are the only Madonna seniors. Eight juniors will step up next year and Tokash is just a sophomore.
"The seniors really came alive this last half of the season and brought the whole team along with them," Kolanko said. "A lot of experience is coming back.
"I told them, 'This year, the game ends here. Next year, we're going to hoist that trophy.'
"We're already starting to look to that. Our heads are high."