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OKOLONA – Bullitt East’s dream of reaching the summit of area soccer will have to wait a little longer.
For a second straight season, the Lady Chargers roared back from a loss in the 24th District Tournament final to regain a rematch with perennial power Mercy by beating Holy Cross (4-0) and then North Bullitt (6-2).
On Thursday, at Mercy, the Lady Chargers made a final push to the summit. The climb came up just short when the Jaguars’ Sydney Oates broke the hearts of the red and gold nation when she redirected a shot into the back of the net with 2:57 remaining in the second overtime to give Mercy a 2-1 victory.
A spectacular effort by Bullitt East on a bitterly cold and windy night continued to show the strides the program is making against Mercy. The two teams have met six times now over the past two seasons since realignment put them not only in the same region, but also the same district.
The six meetings over two years show the narrowing gap. A year ago, Mercy beat the Lady Chargers 8-1, 7-1 (district final) and 5-0 (regional final). This year the scores have been 5-1, 3-1 (district final) and now 2-1 (regional final).
It was certainly a devastating loss for Bullitt East, but it was also a strong showing for the program and bodes well for the future.
“Sure it is,” first-year Bullitt East head coach Steve Gentry said of the high level of frustration. “But I couldn’t be prouder of the way we played. Give Mercy credit, they scored the goal, but they knew we were here.”
After leading 1-0 at halftime of the game in the district final to Mercy before losing 3-1, Gentry on Thursday opted to centralize his team’s play in the midfield. The Lady Chargers were not looking to control the ball, but instead were looking to make the long pass between the Mercy defense and then outrun the Jaguars to the ball.
“We move out of our regular 3-4-3 and played a 3-5-2 to get more support in the middle of the field,” Gentry said. “Mercy is just so good at getting the passing angles. They have more skilled people. We were looking for the long pass and the big goal.”
That philosophy gave Mercy an advantage in time of possession, but it gave Bullitt East some strong scoring opportunities. Some of the best chances for the Lady Chargers came in the overtime periods but they just could not get the ball past Mercy goalie Elizabeth Singer, a sophomore.
It was after a failed offensive push, that Bullitt East was rushing back in the second overtime as Mercy took the ball down the left side of the field. Mercy’s Cayla Metzmeier kicked the ball in front of the Bullitt East goal where it suddenly found the foot of Oates who got the winning shot.
With a day off after the semi-final win over North Bullitt, the Lady Chargers mostly just rested. Without the worry of any heat problems on Thursday, Gentry left his starters on the field for much of the game, substituting infrequently.
“We played with who got us here,” Gentry said. “Unless someone was really dragging I was going to leave them in there.”
Mercy got the first goal of the game when junior Madison Little got loose in front of the net. She took a pass from Metzmeier and beat Bullitt East goalie Laura Brown to put the Jaguars’ ahead at the 31:30 mark of the first half.
The two teams then slugged it out for the next 40 minutes. Both team had grand scoring chances only to have the defenses rise up and make golden plays. Brown was all over the front of the Bullitt East goal and Singer had just enough to keep Bullitt East out of the net.
Finally, with just over 24 minutes remaining in regulation, Bullitt East got the ball past the Mercy defense where junior Alnee Tutson ran to it. She made a powerful run with a defender hanging on her, getting the ball low past Singer as she was being pulled down.
Bullitt East just could not follow up that goal with another.
The Lady Chargers had picked up a lot of confidence from the district final, a game that they led 1-0 at halftime before Mercy rallied to win 3-1.
“This time I told them we needed to play both halves like the first half in that game,” Gentry said. “That was the difference this time. We played our hearts out for both halves.
“There were no losers out there on this night,” the coach added.
After the game, Bullitt East senior Meghan Roby, the only senior that played for her team in this game, was named to the 24th District All-Tournament team along with Tutson and freshman forward Christian Foster.
Also named to the All-Tournament team were North Bullitt’s Taylor Johnson and Courtney Bloom along with Bullitt Central’s Kaylee Lovell.