After two seasons of toiling, grinding and a lot more, head coach Haley Schafer and the Mexico varsity girls soccer team had come from just getting to know each other to a single, cohesive unit that was playing for the Class 2, District 12, title against Father Tolton last Thursday at Moberly.
Championships tend to bring out the best in everybody, so even though the first half was a scoreless tie, Father Tolton's Emma Johnson came the closest to breaking that deadlock with a blistering shot about 10 minutes in that took everything Lady Bulldogs goalie Payton Bledsoe had to make the save. After the break Father Tolton kept testing Mexico's defense with a long shot at 38:36 that went just high and another line drive by Johnson at 30:39.
Finally, just over a minute later, Johnson did connect at 29:14 right down the middle from close range off of a long pass to put Father Tolton up 1-0. From there this contest became a back and forth affair that saw the Lady Bulldogs come alive at the end, only to find Father Tolton claiming the district trophy 3-1.
"Tonight was one of the better games our girls have ever played. The competition we faced during the season got them ready," said Father Tolton head coach Chuck Register. "At practice last night we went over the things we wanted to do in this game and came out really focused. When we played Mexico during the regular season, we had some injuries and were changing our alignment. Trying something a little different."
The second goal of the game came for Father Tolton with a full house in front of Mexico goalie Bledsoe at 15:40. From the back side of that pack Meg Molli was able to hit a low, sinking line drive that somehow found a path through all that mayhem and madness, and because of that action and the unusual trajectory Bledsoe simply couldn't nail down the flight path as quickly as she might have liked.
"It's hard to end the season with a loss like that. This is definitely not the way we wanted to walk off the field, not the way we wanted to end it, but by no means did we think this was going to be an easy game," said Schafer. "We defeated Father Tolton in the regular season, but that doesn't matter. Those games don't count now. When you step out here it's a whole new ball game."
Mainly because a good part of this contest was played on their side of the field, there was just 9:17 left in regulation when the Lady Bulldogs, 6-17 overall, got on the board. That came off of a corner kick when Sidney Kennemore found herself at the right place and right time, which was in front of the opposing goal ready to make the most of whatever came her way.
"One of the quotes we stuck with all season is that we can't play not to lose. We have to play to win. In the first half we felt the pressure of it being a district championship game," Schafer said. "During halftime we reminded them that based on several specific possesions that we can play with those girls."
At this point Mexico's only effort was on creating another scoring opportunity. At the same time the officials had been allowing both squads to play physical all game long. So, when the Lady Bulldogs offensive attempts at midfield backfired and Father Tolton came out of the scrum with possession, they wasted no time putting Johnson in position for another close shot on goal that made it a 3-1 contest with just 3:34 remaining.
"At halftime we talked about staying patient and finding the areas the girls could get shots off. We wanted to find the post instead of kicking it right at the goalkeeper because most of our shots in the first half were right at her," Register said. "Johnson is a senior and has been shooting like that since she was a freshman. She's a leader and she's been coming up big for us all year. This is one of the best games she's had."