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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Highlands beats Sacred Heart in thriller, moves on to state championship

Bramble's Goal Lifts Bluebirds Back to Championship Game

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. The Highlands girls soccer team beat Louisville Sacred Heart, 1-0 in overtime on Thursday to move on to the state championship game against Greenwood at 8 p.m. Saturday
It seemed to be headed for a third round of penalty kicks for the Highlands Bluebirds girls soccer team (20-3-5 overall) in three games in the state tournament.

But one hard boot of the ball ended the game about seven minutes and 37 seconds shy of that in the first overtime. Sophomore forward Chloe Bramble took a nice pass from sophomore Faith Broering about 25 yards from the goal on the right side.

Bramble booted it to the upper right past Sacred Heart senior goalkeeper Eliza Kelly for the only goal of the game lifting the Bluebirds to a 1-0 win over the Valkyries (24-2-2) in the state semifinals at Lexington Bryan Station on Thursday. Highlands beat West Jessamine and Lexington Catholic on penalty kicks to make it to the state semifinals.

"When Faith received the ball, I just happened to be in the perfect position," Bramble said. "She played the perfect ball. I got a good touch on it. As the defender was coming. when I shot it, the wind took it and curved it perfectly to get around the goalie."

Bramble leads Highlands with 16 goals and has eight assists for a team-high 40 points. Broering has a team-high 14 assists on the season.

"Starting at the beginning of the game, we didn't know the wind so that's why right off the kickoff, we had our striker kick it in the air to see how the wind played," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "We realized it was going one way and one way only pretty much. So we just wanted to close out the first half. (In the) second half, we knew we had it with us. We didn't get too many shots off. Then right after we regulation, we (coaches) brought them together and said, 'Tails never fails.' We got the shooting side we wanted. We told the girls to change up our formation and go a little more attacking and it lead to a great chance. Chloe buried it, which was crazy."

Bramble has scored clutch goals before. She had the game-winning goal in the 2-1 win over Notre Dame in the 9th Region championship game.

Bramble's goal came on the 30th Birthday of her half-sister Amber Barth-Wells. Wells scored the game-winner in the final minutes against Sacred Heart to lift Highlands to the 1-0 win in the 2006 state championship game. Highlands assistant coach and former Head Coach Nina Kearns said she told Bramble she had to do the same thing Wells did 13 years ago.

"It's a really great feeling, especially knowing she can't hold scoring against Notre Dame above my head anymore," Bramble joked. "We're even now."

Highlands takes on 4th Region champion Greenwood (22-2-3) in the state championship game Saturday back at Bryan Station. Game time is 8 p.m.

Sacred Heart finished with nine shots including four on goal. Highlands had six shots with five on goal. Highlands senior goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner and Kelly had four saves each.

The Valkyries did manage five corner kicks to none for the Bluebirds. But the Highlands defense did a great job clearing ball as well as the Bluebirds have done all season.

Sacred Heart's two leading scorers did not manage a shot in the game. They were senior forward Callie Birk with 17 goals and five assists for 39 points and sophomore forward/midfielder Mallory Glass with 12 goals and five assists for 29 points.

Highlands substituted just one player in junior midfielder Maggie Stieby. The Bluebirds played Bramble and senior forward Maria Broering up top with sophomore Faith Broering, senior Parker Price and junior Kenzie Nehus at midfield. Seniors Lauren Deckert, Kelsey Mathis, Tatum Price, junior Greta Noble and sophomore Jade Rehberger played aided the cause in the back as defenders.

"Our defense worked really well together," Parker Price said. "We stayed packed and pushed it into the middle because of how fast they were outside. I think our communication covering each other was key to this game."

Neither team scored in the first half. Sacred Heart had a nice chance in the final minute of the half off a corner kick. But senior Caraline Francke's header off a pass from junior midfielder Anna Buse veered wide left.

The Valkyries had six shots with two on goal in the first half and three corner kicks. The Bluebirds recorded two shots, both on goal.

Highlands had lost six in a row to Sacred Heart. The Bluebirds last beat the Valkyries, 1-0 in the annual Lexington Catholic Cup on Sept. 6, 2016.

Highlands will be making its fifth appearance in the state championship game in school history. The Bluebirds beat the Lady Gators, 3-1 in the state quarterfinals last year. But Greenwood played without senior standout midfielder and Auburn University commit Anna Haddock. Haddock has 54 goals and 24 assists on the year for 132 points.

But Greenwood has seen 17 different players score goals this year. Senior defender/midfielder Annabel Justice is second with 15 goals and 15 assists for 45 points and freshman forward Sarah Wiles has 10 goals and six assists for 26 points for third.

The Bluebirds will earn either their third state championship or third runner-up title in school history Saturday. They lost 2-1 to Sacred Heart in the title game last year and 2-0 to Sacred Heart in the state title game in 2008. Noble agreed it will be key for the Bluebirds to stay on an even keel one more game.

"We've been here before. It's an amazing feeling," Noble said. "We're ready to take it on. We're definitely not going to underestimate them. We know it's going to be a tough game. We know what they can bring. But we're ready to bring it too and we've got the talent to do it."

Highlands won back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006. The Bluebirds won the 2005 crown with a 1-0 shootout win over Lexington Catholic after beating Greenwood, 3-0 in the state semifinals. Rachel Redmond-Stahlhut, a 2007 Highlands alum, hit the game-winning penalty kick to lift Highlands to that first state championship.

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