Meren Patton has scored 21 of the 44 goals for Great Crossing girls' soccer this season, including four in about a half hour of real time Tuesday night.
Still, GC coach Steve Brown didn't need a long line of questioning to detect the freshman's frustration when she walked off the field after a job well done, GC's 7-0 shellacking of Frankfort in the 41st District semifinal.
“They were dropping everybody, and any time Meren touched the ball, three people were on her. I would have done the exact same thing,” Brown said. “She shouldn't have to carry that weight. It's a team. When we play as a team, we play great football. When we play individually, it takes me back to last year. I feel like we backtracked the first half, and then we had to reset our brain.”
Suffice it to say Patton's tough night is the equivalent of a career for most players. She produced her fifth hat trick in eight games this season. Her second, third and fourth scores ripped open what had been a 2-0 game at the half.
Senior Elisabeth Keenan scored twice for Great Crossing, with junior Brooke Dennard notching the other goal.
GC will return to the 11th Region tournament next week. The first order of business, though: A shot at its first-ever district title, at home Thursday against Western Hills. Kickoff time is 6 p.m.
In a game played on Scott County's turf after lightning and heavy rain wiped out Monday's first attempt at GCHS, Frankfort (2-10-2) took advantage of the tighter confines by dropping nine or 10 defenders in the box. Three or four collapsed around Patton's every move.
“I don't think it was the field, honestly. They came out with a good game plan against us. They focused on stopping on our best players, and in the first half it worked,” Brown said. “People were just trying to do too much. We're obviously much better when we play as a team. When we settled down and started passing instead of dribbling, seeing the whole field instead of part of the field, we started to open things up.”
The tactics held GC scoreless for a 35-minute segment in the first half – they scored once early, once late – before the floodgates opened on the other side of intermission.
One thing that didn't waver was the Warhawks' defense. This was their seventh shutout of an autumn in which they've allowed only one goal.
A nightly leader of that resistance, Kamri Smith, credited goalkeeper Shelby Smith's halftime words for motivating GC to a more well-rounded second half.
“I think we knew that we needed to play better obviously,” Kamri Smith said. “Our intensity wasn't there. Once Shelby told us in the middle that we had to have a purpose to play for, for me that purpose was I want to make it out of the districts, and I know we have a shot to go all the way.”
It looked like business as usual from the opening kickoff. Keenan flagged down a ball from Patton and launched a left-footed kick into the upper right corner of the net only a minute and 40 seconds into the game.
Caroline Miklavcic's stellar work in net dominated the middle stages of the half, with GC unable to connect again despite a near monopoly on time of possession.
“I think we thought by showing up, we won. I told them the only people that are gonna give you a gift are your parents,” Brown said. “(Frankfort) are competitors. They're gonna play hard. You have to earn everything that you get, and tonight we didn't play like we needed to earn it when we came here. We found out fast that no matter who you play, you need to earn.”
One those countless challenges finally paid off when a cross from Keenan set up a shot by Madisyn Dodge that slapped against a Panther defender's hand, earning a penalty kick.
Patton put that home for a 2-0 lead with 2:28 to go until intermission.
A similar scenario put GC on the board again in the fourth minute of the second half. This time, Frankfort tripped Dodge inside the 18-yard line. Patton was the designated shooter.
“We got adjusted to their defense, because last we played them they didn't have eight people (back),” Kamri Smith said. “Like Steve said at halftime, We were able to find the doors and pass around them.”
Miklavic denied Patton four more times at close range – she turned away Dennard and Ally Nowlin too – before GC's two freshman phenoms broke through. Nowlin found Patton near the 25, and she navigated a maze of defenders to Miklavcic's doorstep before tapping one in off the far post with 18:24 to play.
Nowlin set up Patton's final strike, as well, before Dennard and then Keenan put the frosting on the cake.
Thursday's final promises to be a challenge. Western Hills scored the only regular-season goal against Great Crossing, and the Warhawks needed an overtime goal from Nowlin to escape with the victory.
Kamri Smith noted that her team is still seeking proper respect from the rest of the state. Even the computerized Maher Rankings currently have the Warhawks at a head-scratching No. 67 in the state.
“Last year we were tired of being underrated,” she said. “We still are from some teams. Some teams, I don't know how they think we got here. But I think there is an added pressure, and I think we're getting over it as a team.”