These Lady Bearcats are good!

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By John Herndon

LEXINGTON - They won't say it publicly, but there have to be times when those closest to the girls' soccer program must want to just scream, "Hey, we are good!"

But Saturday night, they would have just been talking to themselves.

Finding a more appropriate sports venue than Jon Akers Stadium at Lexington's Dunbar High School to serve as the backdrop for the 21st-ranked Lady Bearcats Saturday night would not be impossible, but it would be close.

Kind of like finding dollar gas these days.

On the field, Anderson gradually took control, then pretty much dominated play. Anderson was attacking on the Dunbar end of the field at least 60 percent of the time.

That made the 1-1 tie all the more frustrating. Anderson felt it was better than Dunbar but had little to show for it.

"I am disappointed, not with the kids, but am very disappointed with the result," Anderson coach Jason Earnest said.

"It just feels weird," senior defender Paige Clark added. "Real weird."

Anderson had started pounding the Dunbar net before freshman Taylor Clark sent a laser home seven minutes before halftime.

Even though Dunbar, ranked 24th, did get some looks, they were not of the sort that created a run on Rolaids. With sophomore keeper Rebecca Radcliffe having a solid game and Anderson's speed appearing to wear the Bulldogs down, it looked like Anderson could start sharpening its pencil for the exclamation point to what had already been an incredible week.

Dunbar changed those plans midway through the second half when the Bulldogs converted a corner kick to tie it.

Last Monday, Anderson had dominated another Lexington power, 20th-ranked Tates Creek, 3-0, then Wednesday, the Lady Bearcats pounded district rival Western Hills even worse than the 9-1 final would suggest.

In that one, Earnest played his substitutes for much of the contest and worked makeshift lineups that gave kids a chance to play other spots and further appreciate their teammates' work. Radcliffe, for example, worked as striker for an extended period in the second half while defender Megan Melanson got to play forward and scored her first varsity goal with the Lady Bearcats.

But the ironies of Saturday's match at Dunbar underscored both just how good this Anderson team is, but how they also keep fighting their statewide anonymity.

There was a time when a tie with a good team from a big city school would be something to shout about. But Earnest has built the program from one that simply hoped to play well to one that expects to win.

"Dunbar is solid team. There's no question about that," Earnest said.

Even though Earnest has had some great teams, has coached a Miss Soccer and had numerous players go on to play at all college levels, he has said several times that top to bottom he has more weapons in his arsenal than ever before.

Clark, the senior and four-year starter, agrees. "We have talent like we have never had here," she says.

Playing on an artificial surface that Earnest had thought would work to his team's speed advantage, Anderson could not finish. balls bounced a bit higher than on grass and the Lady Bearcats, for some reason, were not able to adjust.

Dunbar finally tied it after Radcliffe made a spectacular save to the right of her net, but was ruled to have come down out of bounds.

While several Anderson players were disputing the call, Dunbar got off a corner kick. While Anderson stopped that, a defensive breakdown allowed Dunbar to drive one past Radcliffe, only the fourth goal the sophomore has allowed all year.

While Anderson had some great looks over the final 26 minutes, the net seemed to get progressively smaller.

And there were some breaks that went against the Lady Bearcats, for sure.

Anderson fans would refer to them as bad calls, especially what appeared to be an egregious hand ball in the box, but Earnest was quick to point out that his team still had sufficient opportunities to win.

Even though they were not able to finish off a week that would have likely pushed them to a spot in the state's top 15, Anderson still has a great opportunity to make its own noise.

Saturday, about the only noise coming from the stands was a small but vocal group of diehard Lady Bearcat fans.

They know their team is mighty good, but might be one of Kentucky's best-kept secrets. While the Lady Bearcats are ranked, their lack of exposure has probably cost them the ranking that a team with one loss deserves.

That could change this week as the Lady Bearcats head to the Boyle County Invitational Tournament. Anderson was favored to beat Lafayette in a game scheduled for Tuesday night after press time but then could run into a very good Louisville Mercy team and 12th-ranked Boyle County before the week is over.

Next weekend, the Lady Bearcats are slated to take part in the prestigious Marshall County Invitational in far western Kentucky.

Earnest thinks his team has what it takes to make a run deep into the post-season, perhaps even the state finals at Georgetown College.

"I honestly think we can win every game we play," Earnest said even as he tried to get over the disappointment of not being able to slam the door on a second ranked team in five days.

Clark agrees. "We want to be in Georgetown," she said.

If that happens, everyone will know what Anderson County soccer fans already know: These girls are good.