For most of the second half of Friday’s first-round game at the Smith-Cotton Lady Tigers Girls Soccer Tournament at Susie Ditzfeld Field, Smith-Cotton led by a goal and Grain Valley held the ball in the S-C end pushing for an equalizer.
Smith-Cotton’s defense and goalkeeper Lydia Sharp made sure that equalizer never came and the Lady Tigers got some insurance in the 68th minute to win 4-2.
Grain Valley out-shot Smith-Cotton 20-15 in the game with a 13-8 edge in shots on goal and a 3-2 advantage in corner kicks with much of the shooting advantage built up in the second half.
“I was just trying to react,” Sharp said. “I was trying to keep my team marked on them so they couldn’t get good angles and my team did a pretty good job cutting angles down and I was able to react to the ball and save it.”
Down 3-2 at the half, Grain Valley came out in the second half and immediately went on the attack. In the 42nd minute a cross was too far in front and Sharp got to it before any Lady Eagles strikers could get there. In the 46th minute Grain Valley got a corner, but the shot sailed over the cross-bar. In the 49th minute, Grain Valley’s Nathalia Barr had a header go wide of the post.
After Smith-Cotton had a pair of chances in the 51st and 53rd minutes, one sailing wide and one hitting the post, Grain Valley attacked again with a shot from Barr saved by Sharp.
“She made a couple of huge saves that kept us in the game and really won the game for us,” said Smith-Cotton coach Adam Murray. “Without those saves, it’s a different ballgame. It was a close game regardless and she came up huge for us.”
For Murray, that pressure came from an issue the Lady Tigers had problems with in a loss to Helias on Wednesday: winning balls in the air.
“We’re not challenging in the air so they had us pinned in,” he said. “They had some athletes in the midfield so when you’re pinned in, you’re going to be defending a lot. We told the girls at halftime, you’re going to have to start challenging. When we started to do that, we were successful.”
Smith-Cotton eventually made it a 4-2 game when Kiara Williams took a ball into the corner and crossed a pass for Kristen Farrell.
“I felt like we battled and battled and hung tough,” Murray said. “I thought that last goal was our best goal. It was a good buildup and Kiara Williams slid the ball across and Kristen Ferrell punched it in. We told the girls they were going to have to battle and they were able to do that.”
Even in the first half, Smith-Cotton’s defense withstood multiple Grain Valley chances. In the 23rd minute Sarah Garcia cleared an initial shot off the line but the Lady Eagles got another shot and Sharp made a diving save to stop that one.
On several other long passes from the Grain Valley midfield, Garcia was able to track down the ball before the Lady Eagles strikers could get to it and she made more than one tackle to stop Grain Valley runs. Other Lady Tiger backs made similar plays in the first half to stop Grain Valley chances.
“They are always there to mark them and cut them down and make sure they can’t score,” Sharp said.
Grain Valley struck first in the game, a Morgan Clark shot from 30 yards sailing over the keeper’s head in the first minute to make it 1-0.
They tried to pull it off again a few minutes later but Sharp made the save.
Smith-Cotton didn’t take long to equalize. In the sixth minute a Jill Vansell shot rocketed off the post and directly back to her. She buried the rebound to make it 1-1.
Smith-Cotton then jumped ahead in the ninth minute when Vansell made a long run and drew the Grain Valley keeper out of the goal before passing to Brianna Pollitt who put the shot in the open net.
Smith-Cotton made it 3-1 in the 33rd minute when Kali Edwards put a shot in off the keeper’s hand but Grain Valley got one back late in the first half as Kali Carson converted a penalty kick.
Smith-Cotton (8-3) will face Ray-Pec at 9 a.m. Saturday in the tournament semifinal. The Smith-Cotton junior varsity lost 9-1 to Harrisonville and will play at 11 a.m. at Clover Dell Park against St. Paul Lutheran.