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LEXINGTON – Anderson County did not really need a howitzer or even a tank last Wednesday.
All the Lady Bearcats needed for their shootout against Henry Clay was someone with a marksman's accuracy and a heart of steel.
After 80 excruciating, scoreless minutes, Hannah Drury answered the call.
The junior mid-fielder is far from the most intimidating figure on the Lady Bearcats. Of the five that got the chance to try to push a penalty shot past Henry Clay goalie Kayla Price, considered by some to be the best keeper in Kentucky, Drury was by far the smallest.
But the fact that Drury had volunteered for the task was not a surprise. “She has the biggest heart,” Anderson coach Jason Earnest smiled.
And Drury rewarded that confidence with a rocket past Price, making Anderson perfect in the shootout. With classmate Emily Mager making a spectacular stop on Henry Clay's second attempt, Drury's goal put the Lady Bearcats up 5-3 in the tie-breaker with only one Henry Clay shot left.
A mad celebration erupted on the Lady Bearcat bench, as they had done the improbable. Presumably, no one has a chance against the Price and the host Lady Devils in a shootout that determined a pool play game in the Fayette County Soccer Spectacular.
Anderson later defeated Dunbar but fell to Tates Creek in the championship game of the tournament.
“Jason told me just to kick the ball hard,” Drury said.
It was hard enough to just get past Price and clinch a win over the Lady Bearcats' highest-ranked foe since beating Tates Creek in 2006.
“I told the girls this was all about confidence. I want my most confident shooters up there,” Earnest said. “I also said hey, forget about their goalkeeper. Yes, she is great. But I said we have the best keeper in the state playing for us!! That got them pumped up and I had five to seven girls come to me wanting to be shooters. I picked out the five and we went with the ones that wanted to shoot. Like i said, its all about confidence. I told them I was very confident in them, just have your spot and hit it hard.”
Drury was no the only hero though.
While Price has the name, it was Mager who took what she called “a leap of faith” to come up with an incredible save that put Anderson in the driver's seat.
The shootout is one of the most nerve-wracking moments in sports, with all eyes on the keeper trying to stop an uncontested shot from 12 yards out.
“Jamey (Earnest, an Anderson assistant coach, who specializes in working with goalkeepers) said there is nothing you can do except you have got to go for it and don't get caught standing,” said Mager, another junior.
After Anderson's Hannah Pritchert and Price traded goals, the Lady Bearcats' Laura Drury connected, setting the stage for Henry Clay freshman Lindsay Eisen's attempt.
Mager said Eisen played mind games before approcahing ball for her shot. “She tried to psych me out. She was looking (to my) left, so I took a leap of faith and went right.”
Right in the path of Eisen's attempt.
Anderson's Taylor Clark and Madison Carter traded goals with Henry Clay's Rachel Geil and Ginny Hoyt, setting up Drury's clincher.
“Mager's save was tremendous,” Jason Earnest said. For us to score the first two on Price, who is known for making these saves. Emily made that save you could see the confidence in everyone. Even the bench! You could feel it.
“I couldn't stop smiling when Emily made the save, being a goalkeeper myself. I wanted to run out there and hug her right then! I had all the confidence in the world in all of them.”
For 80 minutes, though, neither Price nor Mager broke a sweat as neither team was able to sustain much offense. Anderson had dominated possession, but seriously threatened only three times – Carter, Clark and Elizabeth Mason all just missed. More often than not, Henry Clay thwarted the Anderson attack, only allowing a weak shot on goal that Price easily stopped.
However, Anderson's ball control allowed Henry Clay just one threat, midway through the second half when Mager came out of the goal to cover an attempt by Henry Clay's Caroline Kaplan.
“In regulation, we played pretty well, probably a little more controlled in the first half and we have some glaring areas to work on which playing teams like this helps us so much to help us get better,” Earnest said. “We did have most possession, but that is also Henry Clay's style, a very good defensive team that will concede the possession as they look to counter attack you once you get so many people forward and they are very good at that.
“I thought our defense played extremely well, not giving up any counter-attack opportunities and we played very aggressive. I have five or six players that I am extremely confident in the back for us. I think we are one of the best offensive teams in the state, but we also have a very strong defense too.
“I am very excited about this team!”
Anderson Co. 1, Paul L. Dunbar 0
The Lady Bearcats had an early wakeup call for the 8 a.m. contest against Dunbar on Saturday morning and turned in what Earnest called “our worst of the season.”
Pritchert scored from about 30 yards out in the first half to give Anderson all the scoring it needed.
Earnest, however, lamented that even though Anderson played better in the second half, “The game was played between the 18's (yard marks) without many opportunities for either team.”
Earnest said that Dunbar did turn up the heat in the final 15 minutes but the Lady Bearcats defended well.
“PLD is a young team, but they are so well coached and will be very strong by the end of the season. They are much improved from last season and really played the much better game. We had to defend all of the first half and got lucky to be up 1-0 at half,” Earnest said in an e-mail.
Tates Creek 4, Anderson Co. 1
Tates Creek exposed some of Anderson's shortcomings in winning the Spectacular championship game, 4-1, on Saturday night.
Earnest put the blame on himself as his team suffered its first loss of the season.
“I will always take the blame for a loss as it is my job to have the girls prepared to play and this was not the case. During the tournament run, our spacing on the field had been a problem but we were still winning. I knew with the speed and talent level of a team like Tates Creek, I had to find a solution. I tried a new formation for the game that we hadn't practiced at all.
“Several of the girls were not happy about it and uncomfortable playing it. ... I take the blame as we shouldn't have introduced this prior to such a big game.”
Earnest, however, said that Tates Creek showed why it is considered by some to be one of the state's top five teams. “They were amazing in the first half,” he said. “That was the best half of soccer I have seen in a long time, especially against us. Tates Creek put on a clinic on how to attack, pass and play with passion. They outworked us, out-hustled us and outplayed us.”
Anderson did show some fire in the second half but Tates Creek eventually built its lead to 4-0 before Hannah Pritchert scored from about 30 yards out with 15 minutes to play, setting the final score.
Earnest believes his team played in the strongest season-opening event he has ever scheduled and should benefit.
“I feel like our team has so much room to improve,” he said. “I also see how talented we are and how good we can be. We needed a tounament like this to really let us see where we are and also where we want to be.
“It is my job to get this team playing at (Tates Creek's) level, because we do have the skill and talent to be playing at that level. I am confident we will bounce back and show the passion of Anderson County soccer.”
Email John Herndon at email@example.com.