|Lady Gators Score in Final 10 Minutes to beat Bluebirds|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham. The Highlands girls soccer team lost 1-0 in the state championship to Greenwood on Saturday. The Bluebirds finished state runner-up for two years straight.|
Highlands (20-4-5 overall) appeared to have the quickness advantage over the Greenwood Lady Gators (23-2-3). The Bluebirds recorded 13 shots to six for the Lady Gators including five on goal to two. Highlands senior goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner had one save.
But Highlands could not put one in and wound up losing 1-0. This marked the first appearance in the state championship for the Lady Gators.
"Congrats to Greenwood on the first title. (The Lady Gators) definitely earned it," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "They gritted it out. We give them full respect. Absolutely. We appreciate the KHSAA for the whole tournament. It just wasn't our night."
Highlands had four corner kicks to three for Greenwood. But the Bluebirds could not put one past senior goalkeeper and Tournament Most Valuable Player Elizabeth DeMarse.
The lone goal of the game with 8:46 left. Greenwood drew a foul just to the right of the attacking box. Greenwood senior standout midfielder Anna Haddock shot the free kick toward the net. Highlands goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner made the initial stop. But senior defender/midfielder Alison Kaelin was there for the rebound. That marked just the second goal of the year for Kaelin and the fifth assist for sophomore midfielder Paige Hines.
"That's just the game of soccer. That's sports," Dean said. "Sometime it works in your favor. Sometimes it doesn't. We could say that we had a couple lucky bounces the last couple games. You can say our luck ran out in a way, but these girls are incredible. They'll be even more hungrier next year with the girls returning. This is a great family."
Highlands held Haddock in check. The Auburn commit only had two shots with one on goal. Haddock finished the year with 54 goals and 24 assists for a total of 132 points.
"(Haddock) did well," Dean said. "But if we didn't mark her, I'm sure she'd have maybe one or two in. (Highlands junior midfielder/forward) Kenzie Nehus did a great job. She's never done man marker and she really stepped up to the plate."
Highlands senior forward Maria Broering had a couple good shots in the second half. She received the ball on the right side and shot one left-handed. But DeMarse stopped it. Highlands junior Greta Noble had a shot go just wide with 15:13 to go and Highlands senior Lauren Deckert had a free kick stopped by DeMarse.
Neither team scored in the first half. Highlands put up seven shots with one on goal. Greenwood had just two shots, but none on goal.
"The game works in so many different ways," Dean said. "Quickness works sometimes. Sometimes, it doesn't where they sit back and let our quickness come to them. They kind of packed the 18 (-foot box) so we didn't have any great chances even though we had the quickness to get by them. They did a nice job defending us."
The Bluebirds had a great scoring chance with 13:06 left in the first half. Maria Broering played one to the center from the right side. Nehus and Maria Broering booted the ball in traffic a couple times. But DeMarse blocked it.
Highlands saw three players make the all-tournament team. They were senior midfielder Kelsey Mathis, sophomore midfielder Faith Broering and sophomore forward Chloe Bramble.
Bramble nearly put one in with 4:50 left in the game when DeMarse was out of the goal. But Greenwood cleared it.
The Bluebirds graduate 10 players off the team. They are Hinegardner, Deckert, Mathis, twins Tatum and Parker Price, Katelynn Helminiak, Jordan Halpin, Maria Broering, Rylee Thomas and Natalie Ossege.