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LOUISVILLE - For the first time in over a decade, the Bullitt East Lady Chargers reached the championship game of a district girls' soccer tournament only to run into a brick wall as they were beaten by Mercy 7-1 on Thursday on the Jaguars' home field
This was the first season for the Jaguars and Lady Chargers to battle in the tough 24th District after realignment moved Bullitt East from their long time home in the 9th District where they had to battle the top teams in Nelson County.
This has been a banner season for the Lady Chargers in their new home and reaching the final was an accomplishment as they had to score three times in the second half to pull away from Fern Creek for a 5-2 victory in the semi-finals.
Bullitt East just ran into a brick wall against Mercy. During the regular season, Mercy had beaten the Lady Chargers 8-1 in Mount Washington and it wasn't much closer the second time around.
Worse for the other teams in the Sixth Region is the fact that Bullitt East is probably the second best team in the new regional alignment. The red and gold have lost only twice this season to teams in the Sixth Region and both of those losses were to Mercy. Bullitt East defeated the other three district champions that will be playing in this week's Sixth Region Tournament at Holy Cross High School.
Bullitt East competed in the district tournament less than two weeks after second-year head coach Richard Carver stepped down and was replaced by Daniel Rock, who is in his first season with the team. Long-time volunteer assistant coach Steve Gentry is also helping with the team as is Stephanie Warner.
In the championship game, Mercy put the clamps on the Bullitt East offense by assigning senior defender Victoria Dircksen to shadow senior forward Lexi Higginbotham, one of the state's top scorers this season. Higginbotham had scored three goals in the semi-final win over Fern Creek.
On Thursday, Higginbotham had a limited number of touches and seldom was open in space. Her chances at shooting were extremely limited.
At the other end, Bullitt East had no defense for Mercy senior Kayla Richardson who scored five goals including three in the first half when the Jaguars bolted to a 5-1 lead and never looked back.
It was 3-0 with 11:25 to play in the first half when the Lady Chargers worked the ball away from Higginbotham. A long pass to the right side of the field was tracked down by Kacie Heichelbech who crossed a pass in front of the Mercy goal. Layne Cutler won the race to the ball and directed it past the Mercy goalie. Both Heichelbech and Cutler are freshmen.
Unfortunately, the Lady Chargers could not maintain that momentum. Just two minutes later, a corner by Jacquelin Schmitt came down in front of the Bullitt East goal and was converted into a goal by Sierra Hoagland.
That pretty much was the match from that point.
"I give Mercy all the credit," Rock said after his team picked up its runner-up trophy. "They were well prepared. They did what I thought they would do. It just didn't go our way tonight.
"They were quicker than us getting to the ball," the coach admitted. "We have to work on that."
Mercy and Bullitt East could very well meet again on Thursday of this week in the Sixth Region final. Bullitt East opens play on Monday at Holy Cross, a team they beat 6-0 during the regular season. With a victory then, the red and gold would take on North Bullitt on Wednesday. The Lady Chargers beat their county rivals 6-2 in a meeting on Aug. 30.
That would set up a rematch with Mercy on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Holy Cross.
Bullitt East set up the second meeting with Mercy by beating Fern Creek 5-2 in the semi-finals two days earlier. The Lady Chargers had beaten the Lady Tigers 4-0 back in the first match of the season.
This time it took a lot more effort as Fern Creek scored twice in the first half to lead 2-1. That lead lasted less than a minute as Bullitt East tied it at 2-2, the score at halftime. The Lady Chargers then scored three times in the second half to secure the win.
After Fern Creek had taken the lead, Bullitt East pushed forward and were awarded a free kick from 25 yards out. Sophomore Alnee Tutson drilled the ball at the goalie who could only knock it down. Higginbotham then raced in and directed it into the back of the net.
Bullitt East had scored early in the match when junior Meghan Roby converted from the left side of the goal. Higginbotham then scored the first two goals of the second half before Roby closed out the scoring in the final minute of the contest.
Bullitt East heads to regional play with an 11-9 record.
After the tournament, the All-24th District team included Higginbotham, Roby and senior Jessi Hottios. Mercy's members of the All-Tournament team were Richardson, Schmitt, Courtney Anderson and Kaitlyn Golab. Fern Creek's members of the honor team were Anna Allen and Catharine Scott.