Huff and Eldridge.jpg

Madison seniors Taylor Huff (foreground) and Paige Eldridge (background) are shown here in a game earlier this season at Clear Fork. On Saturday the duo helped lead Madison to its second straight Final Four.

ST. MARYS, Ohio -- A second straight trip to the Final Four is the next chapter to unfold in the story of the 2020 Madison girls soccer season.

The No. 1-ranked Rams (19-0-3) made sure of that on Saturday afternoon by dismissing St. Marys Memorial 3-1 in the Division II regional championship game.

Senior All-American Taylor Huff was her usual stunning self, recording two assists (to extend her state record total) and added a goal. Natalie Back and Naveah Lewis each found the net, too. Yet perhaps the pivotal performance of the game was turned in by keeper Paige Eldridge.

"It's awesome, we know what to expect from here on out," Eldridge said. "We're excited, excited to be here again."

For the day the Rams' stopper reccorded seven saves, and kept her team afloat when the seas and maybe even the season appeared plenty rocky.

The scenario took place late in the first half.

Huff booted a free kick toward the box where Back headed a superb shot into the net with 20:45 showing to push the undefeated Rams to a 1-0 edge.

But the unranked Roughriders (17-4-1) responded with the equalizer by Lily Ankerman at the 9:34 mark.

That's when the Madison senior came to the fore.

The tying goal seemed to bolster St. Marys, and the next 10 minutes of action were spent largely on the Rams' side of the pitch. Repeatedly the Roughriders pressed the issue, getting off a pair of excellent shots on goal, repelled by even more spectacular saves from Eldridge.

"They had two really good shots and I just had to stay composed, stay by the goal," the first-team All-Ohio Cardinal Conference performer said. "I just try to stop every ball I can."

After the second save, Huff reasserted herself and took a ball solo more than half the length of the field, weaved between multiple Roughrider defenders, feinted out the keeper and tucked a neat left-footer into the back of the net with just 2:30 remaining in the half. That gave the Rams a 2-1 advantage, and seemed to relax Madison at both ends.

St. Marys managed five more shots on goal in the second half, but none were as dramatic.

Meanwhile, Huff pushed an assist to Lewis who was nearly parallel with the post on the far right side. The freshman angled a cross toward the middle of the field that squirted off the keeper and into the net for an insurmountable 3-1 bulge with 26:05 to play in the match.

That was the crusher.

The verdict snapped St. Marys 16-game winning streak, a remarkable run after losing three of their first four matches.

Madison will play undefeated Rocky River (19-0-2) Tuesday at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined by the Ohio High School Athletics Association. The Pirates beat Richfield Revere 2-0 in their regional title tilt on Saturday.

The OHSAA will announce the Final Four site on Sunday.

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I've lived in Richland Co. since 1990, married here, our children were born here. This is home. I have two books published on a passion topic, Ohio high school football. Others: Buckeyes, Cavs, Bengals, Reds, History, Disney.

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