In Thursday night's 41st District girls' soccer championship, Great Crossing had to fight hack after falling behind in a game for the first time all season.
Next time the Warhawks take the field in the region tournament, they'll have to bounce back from something else they haven't experienced in this abbreviated, breakthrough campaign: A defeat.
Western Hills earned revenge for three prior overtime losses in the past two years by holding on for a 3-2 victory, ending GC's unbeaten streak at eight.
“It stinks. I'd much rather have a loss during the season than in the championship,” GC coach Steve Brown said. “It's one of those lessons we couldn't learn in the season, because the season was so short. It would have happened at some point if we had the regular 18 games.”
Runner-up in the district for the second consecutive year, Great Crossing will travel to face a champion from one of the other three districts – Henry Clay, Lexington Catholic or Richmond Model – in the 11th Region quarterfinals.
The draw is to be held Friday, with the game expected to be played Saturday.
Meren Patton and Elisabeth Keenan scored the goals for GC. Keenan's redirection of a shot by Madisyn Dodge rallied the Warhawks to within a goal with 6:52 left, but Western Hills (8-5) weathered the impending storm as it had done throughout the game.
“There was a free kick off the bar, a couple things off the post, one amazing save by their keeper (Carson Graves),” Brown said. “Meren had a shot right here in front of me that I thought for sure would be a goal. There were just a few things that went their way tonight and not our way.”
Kennedy Carter, Anna Woolums and Maddie Muller supplied the goals for Western Hills, which lost to GC on penalty kicks in both the 2019 regular season and district semifinals.
GC won this season's previous meeting, 2-1, on Ally Nowlin's golden goal in overtime. No other team has put a ball in the net against the Warhawks.
Western Hills' sense of urgency and desire for retribution were palpable.
“Once we got down, we realized we weren't just going to win it,” Brown said. “Like we've been saying, you have to earn it when you play a sport. I think some people left it on the field tonight. It just wasn't enough.”
Tournament MVP Kristin Tucker set the table to put the Wolverines on top with 21:11 remaining in the first half. She stepped through Patton and Nowlin and found Carter one-on-one with GC goalkeeper Shelby Smith from 15 yards away.
Patton pulled the Warhawks even on a 30-yard rip into the upper right corner of the net with just under six minutes remaining in the half. It was her 22nd goal of the season.
Back stormed the Wolverines, not even four minutes into the second stanza. GC initially fought off a corner kick, but Mattie Brock recovered for Western Hills and found Woolums, whose cross from the corner sailed through the box and off the fingertips of a leaping Smith.
“They have six seniors. We've still got one starting,” Brown said. “Our year's coming, but we've got to put it all together.”
Two defensive saves by ever-present Kamri Smith helped keep the margin at one until Muller rattled one in off the near post with 22:55 to play.
Patton and Nowlin, both freshmen, were named to the all-tournament team for Great Crossing along with Dodge.
Brown has been brutally honest with his team, more than once telling the Warhawks that their spotless record was a confluence of unusual circumstances.
“It takes a lot of luck to have that happen, and luck went against us tonight a little bit,” he said. “I was just trying to tell them we have another game, and it's not whether you win or lose. It's how you pick yourself up after you lose. We're going to play somebody tough, and we've got to be ready to play.”
GC defeated Model in the second game of this season and lost to Henry Clay in last year's opening round at regions. The Warhawks have never played Lexington Catholic.
Lafayette, Madison Southern and Sayre also are in the bracket.
“I think there's one team that knows it's the best team in the tournament, and then there's the rest of us,” Brown said. “You'll know by my body language (Friday) what I think of our draw.”