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OWENTON – Never let anyone tell you that a district championship match is meaningless. Especially when Anderson County and Woodford County get together to decide girls' soccer supremacy in the 25th District.
It is true that both had already qualified for the 13th Region tournament earlier in the week. And it is also true that most observers have felt all season long that the teams at the top of the region, including the old border rivals, are very even, underscored by when the teams battled to a 0-0 tie back in early September.
Anyone who witnessed 100 minutes of excruciating soccer, the emotion and the physicality rarely seen in the girls' game knew this one was for keeps. It was pride times 10 last Thursday at Owen County High School, the site of this year's tournament.
In the end, Woodford County claimed a 2-1 victory in overtime. Taylor Kelly arched a shot into the net from 40 yards out for the game-winning score with 4:45 to play in the second overtime period. Woodford took back the district championship that Anderson had won a year ago and the Yellow Jackets claimed their fifth district title in the seven seasons since the schools were grouped together.
Both teams advanced to the 13th Region tournament with Woodford winning the right to host the tourney with the district title.
Already missing starting goalie Emily Mager and starting sweeper Hannah Drury, both out with injuries, Anderson was not able to get much going offensively. For the night, Anderson took only five shots, while Woodford fired nine for the game.
“We were outplayed the first half,” Anderson coach Jason Earnest said. “I think a lot of it is the Woodford mystique, but we let them take charge.”
Still, the Lady Bearcats had managed a scoreless tie as the Anderson defense responded time and again. Junior Maddy Ruble made a pair of outstanding saves to keep Woodford out of the net.
Anderson asserted itself much stronger in the second half but still never got much of an attack going in the second half.
“I told the girls to be the aggressor in the second half and they did that,” Earnest said. “I told them we were a better team but we had to show it.”
In the first minute of the second half, Anderson's Taylor Clark was open for a split second after taking a pass from Kemper Rogers, but Woodford closed the opening before Clark could shoot.
Woodford, which outshot Anderson 9-5, returned the favor with a shot off the cross bar a minute later, then Ruble made a great save on the rebound.
From that point, it was a rolling chess match with neither team able to generate a serious threat until Kelly connected from about 15 yards out with six minutes left. The ball bounded just out of Ruble's reach.
But Anderson got a break two minutes later when Woodford goalie Stella Adams was out of the box on a punt. Despite a wide wall set in front of her, Hanna Pritchert drilled the free kick home from 19 yards to tie things. With neither team able to muster offense, the teams fittingly went to the extra period.
Anderson seemed to have a chance late in the first overtime period when Adams came out to challenge Pritchert but the Yellow Jacket defense made a nice clear.
Kelly's winning goal came suddenly and was the result of a defensive mistake on a throw-in.
“We didn't mark her up like we should have,” Earnest said. “You don't expect something like that.”
And, Earnest said, Woodford's win was partly because of his team's inability to capitalize. “We didn't execute the way we need to and we didn't take advantage of a couple weaknesses that we found in Woodford,” he said. “We definitely needed to get more shots off against their freshman keeper. But the field quality, and the speed of Woodford's defense caused us problems. Woodford stays very organized in defense and shuts down offensive players very fast to not give up many shots.”
Yet, Earnest was upbeat after losing to his team's most bitter rival.
“I told the girls we are still going to the region and it is very evenly matched. There are some areas we need to work on but last year's regional champion (Henry Clay) was a district runner-up.
“We still have a chance.”
Anderson Co. 4, Franklin Co. 0
The Lady Bearcats advanced to the regional tournament for the 11th time in the last 12 years with an impressive 4-0 victory over Franklin County in the District 25 semi-finals at Owen County.
After enduring delays totaling nearly 90 minutes because of a lightning delay and overtime in the first game, Anderson took control 15 minutes in when Elizabeth Mason guided a loose ball to the net.
With the first game lingering on through overtime and almost nine minutes of sudden death, nerves started playing a role with the teams waiting to play. "Coach Jason (Earnest) finally came over and said 'I have to talk to you,'" Mason laughed.
"I knew my kids were anxious," Earnest said, “but in some ways, the delay might have worked in our favor. Franklin County is a good team but when you have a delay like that, you can lose some of your edge.
With two minutes to go before halftime, Madison Carter then scored the first of her two goals to put the Lady Bearcats firmly in command.
"We knew we had the game after that," Carter said.
Hannah Pritchert added a penalty kick and Carter finished the scoring with three minutes to play.
Pritchert, Tori Yeaste and Abby Prater were named to the all-district tournament team.
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.