An 11th minute goal was all St. Pius X needed in a 1-0 West Central Conference win over Smith-Cotton on Tuesday at Susie Ditzfeld Field.
The win moves St. Pius alone into first place. Warrensburg’s win Tuesday over Center leapfrogs them into second a half-game ahead of Smith-Cotton.
Smith-Cotton’s offense had trouble getting through the St. Pius defense and midfield, which often tackled balls away from the Lady Tigers.
“They were very organized and they were kind of tough to break down,” said Smith-Cotton coach Adam Murray. “They do a good job. That’s their strength. Their back and their midfield is the strength to their team, and they were able to control the pace of the game. We weren’t able to create or do anything to get in. They stayed organized, and they did a good job of doing that.”
Smith-Cotton strikers Jessica Coble, Brianna Pollitt and Jill Vansell were able to put several quality scoring chances together, but often the Warriors cut off the diagonal passes up to one of the attackers. A through-ball to Coble in the sixth minute, which would have put the Lady Tigers in front, was steered away by the Warriors defense.
“They kept the space behind the back line,” Murray said. “There wasn’t space behind and the keeper did a good job behind the line and cutting down the space. You’ve got to give credit to them. Their backs were organized and their keeper was just eating those up.”
Smith-Cotton managed five shots on goal in the game, all five stopped by Warriors keeper Anna Lillig. Several times the Lady Tigers put together runs only to have Lillig make the stop.
“She did a good job of taking away angles and reducing the shot angle,” Murray said. “She’s good. You’ve got to tip your hat to her. She made a lot of good saves.”
Lillig stepped in front of an Alexia Goodson shot in the 28th minute set up by Coble. She also made a leaping save to deny Goodson in the 61st minute, denied Pollitt after a cross from Vansell in the 74th and stepped in front of a cross attempt from Vansell to Coble in the 76th.
St. Pius broke through in the 11th minute on just its second shot of the game. Sydney Routh weaved through the Smith-Cotton defense and beat Lady Tigers keeper Lydia Sharp to make it 1-0.
St. Pius had chances to extend the lead, including several first-half runs by Routh and Allison Malott, which the Smith-Cotton back line tracked down and turned away. Right back Kiara Williams came through with several stops to end St. Pius scoring chances.
“I thought Key has stepped in and played really well at right back,” Murray said. “She’s able to isolate and defend one-on-one and she’s been able to play herself into a role where she’s getting a lot of minutes on the field. I think she’s done a good job back there. At that wing back position, you’re going to be isolated and you’re going to have to play one-on-one, but she’s a good athlete and she’s played a lot of soccer.”
Though the teams were nearly even in shots on frame, St. Pius had an 18-7 edge in total shots, narrowly missing on several chances, including a few on set pieces. A corner kick in the 12th minute led to a shot sailing high. A free kick just outside the area in the 35th minute clanged off the crossbar. Another free kick in the 38th minute went wide.
Smith-Cotton had just one solid chance from a free kick. Maddie Davidson’s attempt from 30 yards out in the 59th minute was off target.
The Lady Tigers had a few other chances in the final minutes, but the St. Pius defense held firm, not even allowing the Lady Tigers to get a shot off on backup keeper Hannah Rudkin who played the final 1:20 after Lillig was assessed a yellow card for stalling on a goal kick.
Smith-Cotton (11-7, 5-2 WCC) will host Warrensburg at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.