It was déjà vu all over again for the Lady Cats.
In the first round of the 31st District soccer tournament, Henry County’s girls’ soccer team beat Carroll County on penalty kicks, a performance nearly identical to an early season match-up between the two.
Then, last week, it happened again against Owen County.
The Lady Rebels once again came from behind to defeat the Lady Cats 3-2 in double overtime with just 3:00 remaining before a penalty kick shootout would have decided the game.
This time the game-winning goal came from Amber Gover on a pass from Ashley Byers who had broken the Cats’ hearts earlier in the season with the winning goal.
Byers had possession in traffic deep in Henry County territory and managed to find Gover who was about 15 yards in front of goal. Gover struck the ball with one touch and sent it into the top left corner of the goal. Goalkeeper Sophie Hughes, who came up big all night, had no chance to make the save.
The host Lady Rebels started strong on the night and forced Hughes into a save in the first minute of the game. They again had an excellent chance in the 7th minute but missed from 5 yards in front of goal.
Izzy Miller had the first chance for the Cats in the 9th minute when she took a shot from about 15 yards out, but the Owen keeper saved the shot.
Owen got the first goal of the game in the 11th minute from 10 yards out by Morgan Walker. Owen made two nice passes up field before Walker received the ball and outraced the defenders to get an open shot from about 10 yards out. Hughes did not have much chance to save the shot.
Rachel Vegh answered for the Cats three minutes later as she took a long clearance from Hughes and got behind the defense for a goal from about 12 yards out.
Hughes was forced into another save just two minutes later and then the Cats got more possession time, playing in Owen’s half of the field.
Vegh had another breakaway chance in the 22nd minute but a good hard tackle by the Rebels defender snuffed it out.
In the 27th minute, Vegh struck again with a heads up play that gave the Lady Cats the lead.
On yet another breakaway chance the Owen defense committed a hand-ball foul just outside the penalty box. Vegh quickly grabbed the ball and placed it down before the Owen defense could set up. The Rebels’ goalkeeper was caught off guard and Vegh struck the ball into the back of the net. The Lady Rebels were stunned as Henry County celebrated the goal.
Owen threatened twice more before halftime. In the 30th minute Hughes made another save on a hard shot from 15 yards out and in the 37th minute the Cats got lucky when a wide open shot from 5 yards out hit the post and bounced back into the field of play to be cleared by Hollie Jameson.
The Lady Rebels attacked relentlessly — looking for the tying goal — and dominated the second half.
In the first minute of the second half disaster nearly hit the Cats. Jessica Holcomb was called for a hand-ball when the ball bounced up and struck her arm in the penalty box. But Hughes came up big on the penalty kick with a diving save to her left to keep the Cats in front.
The Lady Rebels finally broke down the Cats’ defense in the 18th minute of the second half on a corner kick. The corner was high and near the goal and Hughes was able to get her hands on it but the ball bounced off her hands and a charging Walker headed it home to tie the game.
That set up the heartbreaking game-winner by Gover to end the Cats’ dream of a district championship.
“I feel the girls played one of their best games of the season,” Coach Brandie Stivers said. “They knew that the district championship was on the line and they gave it everything they had. I am very proud of the game that these girls played.
“I think fatigue was the biggest contributing factor to Owen’s comeback. Our girls had just played 87 minutes of non-stop running, with only a couple of subs, Owen caught them in a weak moment and was able to take full advantage.”
Stivers was impressed with the play of her striker and midfielder in this game. “Izzy Miller was able to lock down the middle, you know she’s a threat when the other coaches are yelling at their players to shut her down,” she said. “Also, another big threat to the competition was Rachel Vegh; she did a phenomenal job at the front line and with some quick thinking was able to catch their goalie when she was not paying attention.”
Stivers also felt that her goalkeeper gave the team a chance to win. “Sophie Hughes again stepped up her game in the goal box, with her quick thinking and ability to get hands on the ball. She played a great game and was key in helping keep the Owen County score down. I have to say all the girls on the team played their hearts out. It was a great game to coach and an even better one to watch. The girls came together and played as a team. It was very inspiring to watch.”
HCHS 0 Anderson 8
“Bigger, faster, stronger, higher caliber.”
That’s how Coach Brandie Stivers summed up the Lady Cats game with Anderson County in the first round of the 8th Region girls soccer tournament Monday night.
The Lady Bearcats built an early 4-0 lead and cruised to the 8-0 victory over a young Lady Cats squad that featured a starting lineup with eight or nine freshmen for most of the season.
The Lady Bearcats scored in the second and fourth minutes of the game. They tallied their third goal just 12 minutes in and added another in the 20th minute.
The Lady Cats, who appeared nervous and a step slow in the opening part of the game, played better and held Anderson scoreless over the final 20 minutes of the first half.
Anderson scored again in the 9th minute of the 2nd half and added three more goals before the final whistle blew. Hughes had seven more saves after half time to keep the score from being worse.
“Tonight we came out flat against a bigger, faster, stronger and higher caliber team,” Stivers said. “They had depth that hurt us late. We held them in the middle part of the game. But they spread the field and pass the ball really well.”
“Over the season the girls have learned a lot. We’ve come a long way but we have a long way to go. When you play a team of this caliber you find out your deficiencies. This is a great learning experience for our team.”
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