LHHS girls soccer falls in State Semifinals

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By Lance Catchings

GEORGETOWN — For the first time in its five-year existence, the Liberty Hill girls’ soccer program qualified for the State Tournament following a Regional Championship.

The Panthers played an outstanding State Semifinal game against Midlothian Heritage (28-3-1) on Wednesday at Georgetown High School, but ultimately fell in a penalty kick shootout 2-1.

Heritage started the scoring in the game 3:29 into the contest when Grace Hackney netted a goal in traffic off of a corner kick. It was the first deficit Liberty Hill faced this postseason. The girls quickly regrouped and gathered their composure after the score.

Heritage stayed on the offensive attack, but the Liberty Hill defense led by Kyla Boliek and senior Courtney Peterson kept the team at bay. Freshmen Abigail Janicek and Maddie Dube continued to push the offensive tempo for Liberty Hill during their possession, but were unable to net a goal early. Heritage took a 1-0 lead into the halftime break, but Liberty Hill Head Coach Darren Bauer said he felt his team matched up well.

“We knew all over the field we matched up pretty evenly, so we gave up some space and so would they,” Bauer said. “Today was really a midfield battle. It was about which defense was going to clean up the most, and it was pretty even out there. At halftime, I told the girls we were in good position to just keep working and calm down. We knew we could get it, we just had to work together and push. There were only 40 minutes left and there was no reason to hold anything back. I think it showed when we came out of halftime.”

In the second half, after both Brianna Stark and a Heritage player each received a yellow card, Liberty Hill took possession. Boliek hit a free kick from the 50-yard line that went over the Heritage defenders head that Athena Brown was able to corral to tie the score 1-1 in the 54th minute. From that point on, it was a back-and-forth battle between the teams, mostly in the midfield.

Brooke Briscoe had some nice takes on the ball, but was unable to get a clean shot off. In the 76th minute, Heritage had a fast break to the goal, but Panther goalie Samantha Carter put her body on the line and dove for the ball to stop the attack. Carter was injured on the play and did not return to the game. Miranda Durkin replaced Carter for the remainder of regulation and the overtime periods.

Regulation ended with the score tied 1-1, after which the teams played two 10-minute overtime halves that went scoreless, ending in a 1-1 stalemate before they went to penalty kicks.

“Headed into overtime, I told them we have 20 minutes left, plain and simple,” Bauer said. “Overtime is all about heart, because everyone has already given it everything they have for 80 minutes.”

During the shootout, Heritage netted two kicks, missing one, and Durkin made a big save on another. Janicek was the only Liberty Hill player to convert her attempt, giving Heritage the victory. After the loss, Bauer praised his seniors, in particular.

“My seniors, Courtney Peterson, Brianna Stark and Kaitlyn Schutze have been here since I took over the program three years ago,” Bauer said. “They have put in so much work for me during that time, and they are the ones that have helped lay the foundation for our success now. They have set the bar for how hard we need to work. They showed these younger girls how we play and what we have to do to be successful. It has been an incredible season and I am extremely proud of these girls. We have set the bar for what it means to play at Liberty Hill. They all left everything they had on the field today and I can’t ask of anything more from them.”
Regional contests

On Saturday, the Panthers punched their ticket to State with a 2-1 win over Boerne in the Regional Finals. Bauer praised his team’s ability to fight through adversity.

“I thought the girls responded to adversity great in this game,” Bauer said. “I think we prepared more than any team here, and it showed. Our legs were a little heavy, but the girls came out and you could tell they wanted it. They even fought through some questionable calls, but that’s the game of soccer.”

Liberty Hill took an early 2-0 lead against Boerne, as Janicek finished a free kick from Boliek to net a goal and Stark banged in a header on a corner kick from Brooke Briscoe. That would be all the points they needed as they relied on their defense to pull them the rest of the way.

Boerne put a goal through on a 30-yard free kick in the second half, but would come no closer. Bauer said he knew this team had the potential to be very special early on.

“At this point, we have prepared all year long,” he said. “The girls have showed all season that we deserve to be there and have put in the work. I knew we had the potential this season. With us being so young, I knew we had to gain the experience quickly. These girls, and especially our freshmen, have worked so hard to get up to speed. Once it started coming together, I knew we would be there.”

Last Friday in the Regional Semifinals, Liberty Hill put a 5-0 beat down on an overmatched Pleasanton squad. Stark, Boliek and Briscoe each scored goals in the win. Two freshmen also put points away for Liberty Hill. Lauren Castillo and Janicek represented for the underclassmen on the scoreboard. At halftime, the score was tied 0-0, but Bauer said that was right where the team wanted to be.

“We wanted to go against the wind in the first half against Pleasanton and make it as hard as possible,” he said. “If we could go into halftime 0-0, we would be in a good spot. We felt like in the second half, with the wind, they wouldn’t be able to handle us, and that is exactly what happened. We had some chances in the first half, even with the strong wind against us, so when we got it in the second half, it just created opportunities. Pleasanton has a good offense, but our girls came in and wanted it. Pleasanton had a couple chances, but we were there when we needed to be.”

Boliek, who hit a 30-yard strike on a free kick and assisted another score said you have to mentally picture what you want to happen in those situations.

“I got in my position for the kick and I was lined up, because they were subbing,” she said. “I pictured it going over the keeper’s head into the back of the net, and that’s exactly what it did. On the assist, I just saw the defender was trying to cut off a pass to the inside. I just took on another player and saw the gap open, so I passed it to (Maddie) Dube. I prayed that she kicked it in and she did. This win was extremely satisfying. We have worked really hard for everything so far, and this is the result.”

Briscoe said the win was tough with the heat near triple-digit temperaturs, but the team knew they needed to push through.

“The first half, I wasn’t very satisfied, but I just tried to push through,” Briscoe said. “The water breaks during this game seemed to really help us get settled down. We had a good talk in the locker room at halftime, and with the wind, I think we just wanted it more. I think that kind of heart will carry us through this tournament and on to State.”

Liberty Hill finished the season as Regional Champs with a 27-3 record. The team posted 23 shutouts this year and was the first girls’ soccer team from Liberty Hill to earn a berth to the State Tournament. The team will lose three impactful seniors, but the future looks bright for Panther soccer.

Lance@LHIndependent.com

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