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LOUISVILLE - All any coach hopes for is that his or her team is playing at its best when the post-season rolls around.
For Bullitt East girls’ soccer coach Daniel Rock, that was certainly the case.
The Lady Chargers couldn’t claim the big title but the program was very satisfied with earning the runner-up spot in the Sixth Region tournament on Thursday evening.
The Jaguars won 5-0.
‘I couldn’t be more proud of the team,” Rock said. “We were definitely playing our best ball of the season.”
In the championship game, Bullitt East would face the regional favorite, Mercy. In two previous games this season, Bullitt East lost by a total score of 15-2.
“The girls wanted to be in this game,” Rock said of a third encounter with Mercy. “We knew it would be tough but we wanted to be here.”
In the first 27 minutes, Rock’s team did want it wanted - keep the ball in the middle of the field and not let Mercy get loose for any plays in front of the net.
“We wanted to challenge the ball and we did,” said Rock. “We wanted to try to control the ball and we did.”
At the 12:44 mark of the first half, Mercy’s Kaitlyn Golab got away from a defender and scored.
Just two minutes later, Courtney Anderson would score Mercy’s second goal.
Kayla Richardson would score the final three goals of the crisp night. Two came in the first half - with 7:32 and with 4:12 remaining - and the final tally at the 35:23 mark in the game.
During his halftime discussion, the goal was to win the second half. That almost happened.
“We played so hard,” said Rock. “I am so proud of these girls.”
Rock, who took over the program late in the season and hopes to return next year, said the improvement even in the three encounters against Mercy has been impressive.
“They have come so far and we were playing our best ball of the season at the end of the year,” said Rock.
In the tournament opener against the host Holy Cross team, things got off to a very slow start.
After a scoreless first half, Bullitt East came out strong.
Lexi Higginbotham opened the scoring at the 38:03 mark. Less than two minutes later, Jessi Hottois would add a goal.
Before the 4-1 victory was in hand, Bullitt East got another goal from Higginbotham and one from Meghan Roby.
That set up the semifinal clash against North Bullitt, which won its first district tournament the other day.
On Wednesday, there was nothing slow about the Bullitt East start, something Lady Eagle coach Ryan Bringhurst felt could happen.
“They are a really good team and they came out strong early,” said Bringhurst, whose team was also playing its best ball at the end of the season. “We knew Lexi was going to be a problem for us. She has been for the past two years. We didn’t have an answer for Layne (Cutler) and she played great all night and really hurt us.”
At the 32:41 mark of the first half, Higginbotham broke free for one of her two goals of the night.
That would lead to a 4-0 victory by the Lady Chargers.
Constantly putting the pressure on Lady Eagle goalkeeper Shelby Crenshaw, Bullitt East would score at the 22:16 mark when Roby found the net.
Higginbotham got her second goal with 16:13 left in the first half.
Cutler would have the final goal for the Lady Chargers.
Bringhurst said his team just couldn’t contain all the offensive weapons Bullitt East had in its arsenal.
“The girls were excited and focused before the game,” said Bringhurst. “I think we lost to a better team.”
Even with the loss, Bringhurst was very pleased with the season.
“I think the girls stepped up to the plate and did a great job,” said Bringhurst, whose team closed the season at 8-15. “I think we found ourselves and the future is bright for us.”
North Bullitt will lose eight seniors but nine of the 11 starters in the regional game will return.
“So while we lose a great group of girls, I think we have the pieces in place to be very good next season,” said Bringhurst.
Rock will also lose a number of seniors, which he said would be very hard to replace. But he is also excited about the talent which will be returning.
“The loss will be huge,” said Rock, whose team finished at 13-10. “But we have some very special girls who will be returning. I think we’ll have a bright future.”
All Regional team
Local players named to the All-Sixth Region team included Kassi Gilbert of Bullitt Central; Tabitha Davis and Taylor Johnson of North Bullitt; and Meghan Roby, Lexi Higginbotham and Jessi Hottois of Bullitt East.