Ashland’s girls found an ideal way to ease the sting from a couple of regular season soccer losses to archrival Russell.
After playing a lackluster first half in the 63rd District Tournament final Wednesday night, the LadyCats came alive for a 3-2 victory at Russell Soccer Complex.
Ashland senior Sarah Hudson said the team pulled together after receiving a halftime pep talk from coach E.B. Lowman. Russell led 2-1 at the break.
“In the first half, we didn’t have a lot communication. It was almost like we were scared because of the previous scores,” Hudson said of 4-3 and 5-1 losses to Russell. “As the starters walked out on the field for the second half, we talked about this being a proving ground. We decided this was our time to win.”
After being outshot by a wide margin in the first 40 minutes, Ashland played with purpose the rest of the way to win its fourth district title in five years.
Hudson set up the tying goal in the 49th minute.
Shortly after being fouled in Ashland’s end, the active midfielder advanced the ball and then used her head to tap the ball in the direction of teammate Ragan Neil. The sophomore popped a shot over Russell’s goalkeeper, who had come several yards out onto the field.
The LadyCats remained in attack mode, getting the game winner from sophomore Charity Collins midway through the second half.
Aidan Young helped get Ashland in position, then Collins did the rest. She settled the ball and fired a long, perfectly placed shot into the upper left corner of the net for her 30th goal of the season.
“She’s phenomenal, our game changer,” Hudson said. “I don’t know where our team would be without her.”
Russell coach Joe Grizzle tipped his cap to Collins for the decisive goal.
“It was like 30 or 35 yards out,” he said. “It was a keeper’s nightmare. You just can’t get to a ball like that.”
Collins also scored Ashland’s first goal. She gave the LadyCats an early 1-0 lead on a PK after Hudson took a spill in the penalty box.
The LadyCats (13-6-4) are unbeaten since their emotional four-goal loss to Russell three weeks ago. Lowman said the team imploded that night, but gradually worked through its problems.
“We totally broke down and lost our team concept, then came around and worked on healing wounds,” Lowman said. “It’s a tribute to this bunch of young women to get beyond that.”
Russell (13-8) controlled play for most of the first half. Heather Hencye connected on a booming shot in the 23rd minute. Ashley Huffine headed in a Hencye corner kick toward the end of the half to put the Lady Devils up 2-1.
Grizzle, however, was disappointed with Russell’s performance after the intermission.
“We got the 2-1 lead and I guess they thought that was all they had to do,” Grizzle said. “We were flat the second half, and I don’t know why. You can’t play that way in a big game.”
Both teams advance to next week’s 16th Region Tournament, which will be hosted by the 61st District winner.
“We will see what happens then,” Grizzle said. “Hopefully we will be ready to play.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.