Three of a kind

Layne Ogle, center, and Kamri Smith, right, run to congratulate Great Crossing teammate Madisyn Dodge after one of her two first-half goals Monday. GC cruised to a 5-0 victory in the 41st District semifinals and will play in next week’s 11th Region tournament.

FRANKFORT — The last resort of a heavy underdog in the win-or-else district semifinal round of the KHSAA soccer tournament often is to congregate around the 18-yard line and try to block everything in sight.

Great Crossing has seen the same strategy from the Frankfort girls the past two autumns, and it's all well and good for the Panthers until that first goal finally slips through the cracks. Which leads to the second, the third, and so on.

Never in danger, the top-seeded Warhawks waltzed to a 5-0 win Monday evening at Benny Watkins Field, setting up the title rematch Thursday against Western Hills circled on GC's calendar since a loss in that round a year ago.

“We want to win the district. That was one of our goals for the year,” Great Crossing coach Steve Brown said. “I think last year taught us a good lesson about thinking anything's going to come easy.”

Great Crossing has now advanced to the 11th Region tournament in all three years of the program's existence.

While Frankfort keyed on sophomore striker Meren Patton and others known for knifing through the middle, senior Madisyn Dodge notched the first two goals in a 93-second span for GC (9-4-2) by waiting on the wing.

Dodge put a foot on Patton's high, rising corner kick and hooked it inside the near post with 14:29 remaining in the first half.

“The way they were playing us, they were playing five at the top of the box, so really our outside mids had the best chance of scoring unless it was off a deflection,” Brown said, “Our outsides were wide open. They were daring us to beat them with our outsides.”

Shortly thereafter, she capitalized on Ally Nowlin's relentless pursuit of a 50/50 ball and cashed in a wide-open opportunity

“I feel like we always come out a little flat, and then we get our groove,” Dodge said. “We always pop out and come alive.”

Great Crossing, which has outscored Frankfort by a whopping 28-0 margin in five all-time meetings, poured it on despite a stellar 26 saves from Panthers' goalkeeper Caroline Miklavcic.

Nowlin knocked in a corner kick from Brooke Dennard in the opening minute of the second half.

“In all honesty, we were expecting it. They did that last year,” Nowlin said of Frankfort's pack-it-in tactic. “We just had to work around it. Brown wanted us to play to our wings. He described it like trying to go through a wall, or you can go around it. We just had to adapt to our situation.”

The middle of the field was open ever-so-briefly when Hayden Patton threaded the needle to Seaton Hockensmith for a finish that made it 4-0.

Meren Patton, who leads the team with 12 goals but was stonewalled by Miklavcic, found her younger sister to close out the scoring.

“Once we got the first goal, I felt like their defense would get down on themselves, and that's just what happens,” Nowlin said. “It's kind of like my club coach would say, floodgates. Once one happens, it's on to the next.”

Shelby Smith made three saves before taking a turn on the attack late in the match. Kamorah Tillman polished off the shutout. Layne Ogle, Kamri Smith and Dodge anchored the defense.

“We didn't want to show our hand right off the bat. I wanted to give our seniors an opportunity to get some time,” Brown said. “Thursday will be more of a test, and then obviously the following week (11th Region) will be the real deal, so we've got to be flawless at that point.”

Western Hills knocked off Great Crossing in last year's district final, avenging a series of overtime and penalty kick losses in 2019 and earlier in 2020.

“This is our championship,” Nowlin said. “We're winning it. We've been waiting for two years, and this is ours.”

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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