CANNONSBURG Just when her team needed it the most, East Carter got the Bailey blast.
The Lady Raiders persevered during the second, sudden-death round of kicks from the mark to defeat Rowan County, 2-1, in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals on Monday night at Boyd County.
Both squads went through the nerve-racking first session of strikes, each team connecting on two shots out of five. After some errant tries and a few that lacked the force to find the back of the net, sophomore Bailey Withrow found her mark and scorched it past the diving keeper.
The Lady Vikings could not answer, sending East Carter to the region final match on Wednesday against Russell.
“I told them to just remain calm,” East Carter coach Tyler Walker said of his message before the second round of kicks. “It wasn’t over. They had to hit them again just like we did. They missed as many as we did. It was still anybody’s game. Bailey came through for us with that one hit.”
Lady Raiders keeper Kaitlyn Conley put up a wall and stopped six shots in the final moments, including the last one to advance her team.
“She has been tremendous this year,” Walker said. “Not saying she wasn’t good last year, but she has taken her game to an entire new level. She has saved two or three games that we probably should have lost.”
East Carter remains undefeated at 11-0-1, the region’s only team without a setback. The Lady Raiders have only given up 10 goals all season. Walker attributes much of the team’s success to his core group of seniors.
“The work they have put in has been awesome," Walker said. "They have listened to every word that I have said. They have implemented everything that we have worked on and they are believing.”
“We say it all the time, let’s play East Carter soccer,” he added. “They believe in that. To see them have desire in that, it’s been amazing.”
Makenzie Burnett sent the ball ahead to teammate Alyssa Stickler for the first goal of the game in the 13th minute. It was the senior’s 16th goal of the season.
The score remained the same midway through the second half. Rowan County (5-7) increased its aggressiveness on offense and accumulated more shots at the net. When East Carter was called for a foul 30 yards away from the goal, the Lady Vikings had faith that their next play would work. Faith Cross’s header with 20 minutes remaining knotted the score at 1-1.
“When you have a season like this, you don’t have a lot of time to prepare for inconsistencies,” Rowan County coach Alan Evans said. “We are a young team. We usually start two seniors. We came off the game of our season against Boyd County. We didn’t play at the same level in the first half (tonight). We started playing big and we were able to get that equalizer.”
With a little razzle-dazzle on a direct kick, Kaycee Moore sent the ball skyward toward the net. The ball bounced around in the crowd and Cross sent it in with the header.
“It’s a set-piece play,” Evans said. “We are going to put it on the back post. We try hard to score on those set pieces. Faith was there and got the header. It’s a lot of work to get that. It gives you a little momentum.”
Withrow provided the finisher after the two teams could not find the mark in 12 of the prior 13 attempts. She found room inside the right post for the winner.
“We have been practicing penalty kicks the last two or three practices and she has been smacking them in,” Walker said. “I wasn’t a bit surprised. She hit it hard and hit it low.”
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