First half sends Saxony Lutheran girls soccer past Kelly in district semifinal
Sometimes all it takes to change a game is one moment; one shot. Sometimes that happens to be the first one.
Emma Brune scored on the game's opening shot in the fifth minute, sending a cracking strike into the far top-right corner of the goal from about 20 yards out, and third-seeded Saxony Lutheran girls soccer rolled to a 4-0 win over second-seeded Kelly in a Class 1 District 1 semifinal on Wednesday night at Notre Dame Regional High School.
Brune scored twice, and the Crusaders got goals from Laurel Mueller and Briann Jenkins to dominate the first half and move on to the district championship, where it will face a title battle with rival St. Vincent for a third straight year.
"We talked about having a quick start. We talked about playing with perfect effort, and for the first half, we had that perfect effort," Saxony coach Chris Crawford said. "That was big for us."
The first 40 minutes were some of the best of the season from the Saxony (10-10) midfield, with Makayla Mueller and Etty Soto able to get their heads up and send dangerous balls forward.
Kelly (9-9-4) man-marked Brune in an attempt to slow her down; not only did Brune still make an impact, but the extra attention to the forward left more space in the midfield, and the Crusaders took advantage.
"Obviously when you man mark, you have to sacrifice somewhere," Kelly coach Lance Powers said, "so we were sacrificing in the middle and going with two forwards up top. We tried to stay steady with the backs, and if we could get through the first half even or even just one down, that would have been a successful first half. But they're a good ball club. Emma's good, and she moves the ball well; (Laurel) Mueller, she does a great job."
With Soto and Makayla Mueller taking advantage of that extra midfield space to control the game, it allowed Saxony's strikers to either drop and connect or stretch the field with off-the-ball runs, the latter of which set up the second goal, as Laurel Mueller cut a diagonal run into the 18-yard box and onto a through ball from Soto that the forward smacked into the back of the net for a 2-0 advantage in the 23rd minute.
"Mak(ayla) and Etty in the middle there, they're workhorses, and they don't get the credit they deserve," Crawford said. "People overlook them, and it's not a good idea because they'll hurt you. And they do it with a lot of things that don't show up on the score sheet."
Saxony extended the lead in the 30th minute when Brune ran onto a bouncing ball in the middle of the field, flicked a header past the back line and then simply beat all defenders to the ball before finishing the play for a 3-0 advantage.
"She's been doing it for us all year," Crawford said of Brune. "That was her 24th or 25th goal this year. We've been told by other people that she's the best player in Class 1, bar none, but she's just trying to help.
"Laurel created a lot of opportunities for her today. They man marked [Brune], and Laurel dropped back and was just feeding her. She doesn't do that without Laurel, and same thing for Laurel -- she doesn't do it without Emma."
The Crusaders made it 4-0 at halftime when they found the back of the goal again in the 39th minute -- this time, with their big striker pairing sitting on the bench.
Olivia Spanley ran into space on the right wing, then lifted a cross to the top of the 6-yard box, where Jenkins was making a run to knock the ball in with her first touch.
"We finally have everyone healthy for more than practice, so we've been working with them on getting the ball wide and coming back inside," Crawford said. "Just switch the point of attack. It was pretty good in the first half -- the best we've probably had, like you said, all year. But we still can do better. We still were putting the ball back into pressure when it came from pressure. You know, I'm happy with the way we played ... but we can still get better."
Kelly had a few chances in the first half, with one of the best coming in the 13th minute when Maegan Walker came charging through the midfield and sent a shot toward goal that forced Saxony goalkeeper Ashley Fritsche to tip the ball over the crossbar.
Fritsche made six saves in the game.
Hawks keepers Marissa Worth and Bree Maronay combined for seven saves on the night.
Kelly had another opportunity in the 28th minute, with Lynsey Powers getting the ball to Marissa Jones, who ran at the defense, slipped between two Crusaders and ripped a shot high over the goal.
While the Hawks were out-shot 11-4 in the first half, they threw caution to the wind in the second, pushed into a more attacking formation and generated 16 shots to Saxony's 11 during the final 40 minutes.
With Lynsey Powers sliding centrally and Kelly getting numbers into the attack, the No. 2 seed often had the better of the play in the second half.
Jones nearly got her side on the scoreboard in the 66th minute, when a free kick over the top sent her in behind the defense. Jones touched the ball around a charging Fritsche, but her shot swung just over the open goal.
Even with the Hawks pushing forward, it wasn't enough.
"It's tough, but I didn't think [the early deficit] fazed our girls," coach Powers said. "... If you watch the second half, it was a different story. They came out with some fight.
"Obviously we had to get more chances, so we went with three backs and three forwards and we did (create more chances). ... It was just a tough deal. [Saxony] is a good ball club, and we wish them the best."
An up-and-down campaign comes to an end for the third-year varsity program, as Kelly won seven of its first eight games, claimed a handful of quality results against established programs and earned the district's No. 2 seed. But the Hawks are still left searching for their first postseason victory.
"[The season] was trying some times. I felt sometimes that we were playing at our potential, and then a lot of times, we weren't," Powers said. "We came out of the gates hot and then went flat and went dry for a while -- we couldn't score for a while. Then we were trying to feel our way out, through these last two weeks, with injuries. But overall, we're a third-year program. We've been competitive every year. ... We've got to improve.
"We've got to have a lot of young girls step up next year. We'll have a whole different look. That's life. You graduate all those seniors, and you've got to keep moving on.
"I'll tell you what, we have eight seniors. ... They set the program, and now there's a lot of expectations for the girls to follow and live up to that."
Saxony prepares for a showdown at 6 p.m. Friday with a St. Vincent team that would love to win a district title at the Crusaders' expense, and already beat Saxony 4-0 during the regular season. The Indians defeated Valley Park 9-0 in Wednesday's other semifinal.
"Different season -- it's a new season," Crawford said. "They're 1-0, and we're 1-0. Whatever happened back then is in the past. They're monsters, so we're going to have to sit down tomorrow night and figure out what we're going to do and hopefully have a good game plan for them."
- Photos from the game (05/17/17)