Thursday, October 18, 2018
Bluebirds Move On in 9th Region Tournament
In last year's 9th Region semifinals at Dixie Heights, the St. Henry Lady Crusaders eliminated the Bluebirds, 1-0 in that fashion. The feeling of another one of those presented itself in the semifinals at Ryle on Wednesday. But Highlands (18-4 overall) found the back of the net long before overtime recording a 2-0 win over the Lady Crusaders (13-4-1) to move into the championship game against the Notre Dame Pandas (13-6-3) Thursday at 7 p.m. back at Ryle.
"It's always good to win before you have to go into overtime," said Hanna Buecker, Highlands senior midfielder. "It's a lot less stressful. It was nice to play a good game and get the goals in (before the end of regulation). I think (with) this game especially, we did a pretty decent job with communication with knowing who's going where and cover for each other when we went up to get the ball and win it out of the air."
Highlands beat St. Henry, 5-0 to open the season on Aug. 16 at Tower Park. But after a 1-3 start, the Lady Crusaders put together a 12-0-1 run including a 34th District championship heading into Wednesday. That tie came 0-0 against the seven-time region champion Pandas in Park Hills on Sept. 29.
"Prior to the beginning of the season, we wanted to be that energetic team where we didn't really worry about possession, but as time has come along, we have been kind of both," said Alex Dean, Highlands Head Coach. "It's really helped us out. We're playing faster and creating more chances. (With) our team defense, this was one of the better efforts we've seen all year."
The Bluebirds have won 11 in a row including eight straight shutouts. They out-shot the Lady Crusaders, 20-0 including 12-0 on goal in their 16th shut-out of the season. Junior goalkeeper Maggie Hinegardner only had to touch the ball a couple times.
The Highlands defense starts up front with constant ball pressure. The Bluebirds defenders and midfielders again cleaned things up in the middle and back and started the offensive attacks once again finding patches of grass consistently.
"I thought our communication was the best it's been all year," said Parker Price, Highlands junior defender. "We won every ball out of the air. We were making through runs so we made it way easier for the midfielders to get the ball off their feet quick."
Senior goalkeeper Cori Riegler kept the Lady Crusaders in the game with a nice game in between the pipes with 11 saves. She read a couple nice Highlands shots in the first half and made nice saves. Highlands also had some shots go high or wide. St. Henry did not drop six or seven players as frequently as last postseason.
Highlands put one home on a corner kick with 37:19 left in the game. But a penalty inside the box wiped out junior Lauren Deckert's goal.
But the Bluebirds put that play behind them and kept working. They finally put one home with 23:22 left in the game. Senior record-breaking forward Lindsey Meyer took the ball up the left side and put a pass to the right. Sophomore Kenzie Nehus got to it before St. Henry could clear it and scored the only goal the Bluebirds needed to win.
"First of all when I saw the ball coming toward me, I was just thinking, 'Don't go over.' You have to keep your body over it," Nehus said. "Once I saw it go through (Riegler's) hands and in the back of the net. It was a sigh of relief the fact that we finally got one in after all those struggles of getting one in the entire time. It felt so good. You have to be calm (to finish) for sure. You can't get all wild and crazy or else you're going to kick the ball over the net. If you stay focused and keep (doing) what you need to do, you'll get it in."
That marked the 10th goal of the season for Nehus and the 12th assist for Meyer. Meyer leads Highlands with 24 goals and 12 assists for 60 points and Nehus is third in goals behind junior Maria Wiefering's 16 markers. Nehus also has eight assists for 28 points.
Meyer added on to her school record for most goals, assists and points in her career. She has 71 goals, 41 assists and 183 points in her wonderful career.
"We knew that it would be tough to put it in the net, but we told them if we get to the end line and play one across the six, that's the best way we can score and that's how we scored our first goal," Dean said. "We took that line across the back side. Tap in. When you hit shots straight on, it's easy for the goalie to save. Every time you shoot, you have a feeling it's going in and you can't stop shooting."
Highlands scored an insurance goal with 10:07. Sophomore Greta Noble found junior Jordan Halpin for the score to make the final score.
That marked Noble's 10th assist this year and Halpin's fourth goal. Noble also has three goals and 16 points this year and Halpin has six assists and 14 points.
This will make the fourth region championship appearance for the Bluebirds since their last title in 2010. Notre Dame beat Newport Central Catholic, 1-0 to reach the title game. Highlands rallied for a 3-2 win over the Pandas in Park Hills on Sept. 22.