For The Independent
All that time East Carter's girls soccer team spent practicing penalty kicks? Paid off perfectly Wednesday.
The Lady Raiders knocked off Russell, 2-1, in the semifinals of the 16th Region tournament at Rowan County High School's Dave Shuster Field thanks to a 3-0 win in the extra shots.
Last night's tremendous trio — junior forward Taylor Burnett, junior fullback Amber Hall and junior forward Alexa Sturgill — each sent free kicks past Russell goalkeeper Jalyn Forsyth.
East's reward: Ashland for the title at 2 p.m. Saturday. The LadyCats defeated Rowan County, 2-1, on Emma Wonn's goal in the 72nd minute.
Hall and Sturgill shot to the lower right corner of the net, while Burnett chose lower right.
“I knew before we got to penalty kicks where I was going to put it,” Hall said.
But don't forget East junior goalkeeper Starr Caldwell — she stopped three Russell free kicks and 26 of 27 shots in regulation and two five-minute overtimes. Her secret is watching the body language.
“I watch their foot and their eyes,” Caldwell said.
East wouldn't have had the chance to win if not for senior Macy Dyer. Her goal in the 74th minute, a high-arching shot that Forsyth could only watch, tied the score at 1-1.
“I didn't think we played our best game,” East coach Ben Fritz said. “Macy's our leader.”
After Burnett opened with her penalty goal, Russell's Ashley Huffine shot straight at Caldwell, who made the easy deflection.
“Ashley Huffine is a real good player, and I thought she was going to kick it to the side,” Caldwell said.
Dyer's penalty kick struck the right post, but a shot from Russell's Heather Hencye sailed over the crossbar. After Hall scored, Caldwell dove to her lower left to reject a shot from Lexie Frisby. Sturgill's goal set off East's celebration.
Russell (14-9) opened the scoring in the 53rd minute when Frisby converted Hencye's corner kick.
The Lady Devils kept the ball in East's half of the pitch for most of the first 40 minutes, which kept Caldwell busy — the Lady Devils had 10 first-half shots.
Some were way wide: Huffine's 25-yarder in the fourth minute was wide right, as was her 20-yarder four minutes later.
“Make them make a play!” Russell coach Joe Grizzle screamed at his players.
Other Lady Devil shots were tantalizingly close.
In the sixth minute, Huffine split two Lady Raider defenders and was alone on Caldwell from about 10 yards away, but she could not put the ball over her.
East's (17-1-1) win also forced Dyer to choose between two sports: either Saturday's Area 7 cross country meet at 12:15 p.m. at Mason County or sticking to soccer. Her choice: soccer because she thought her running teammates would understand.
“They'll do good without me,” Dyer said.
Rowan County and Ashland didn't need as much time to score their first goals. The Lady Vikings' Bailee Pennington scored on Haley Devaney's assist in the 16th minute, followed by Ashland's Charity Collins' penalty kick in the 35th.
Wonn was at the left corner of the goal when Collins took a corner kick, which turned out to be the perfect spot because Kayla Brown's header ended up hitting Wonn in the chest. All she had to do was run the ball past Rowan County keeper Ashley Burton.
“We're told to run it through if we can,” Wonn said, “but it doesn't happen very often.”
Ashland coach E.B. Lowman said there was another LadyCat star — junior defender Emily Bond. “She's tough,” Lowman said.
Bond appreciated the compliment. “It makes me want to work harder,” she said.
Rowan County outshot Ashland, 14-10. LadyCat keeper Megan Downey saved nine shots, and Burton stopped two.
Ashland and East played to a scoreless tie on Sept. 18 in Grayson. “We're in it to win it,” Lowman said. “It'll be a tough contest.”