Big D launches Wildcats
Newfound defense leads De Soto to five-straight wins
The shots just keep missing. They go high, they go wide and a seemingly impossible number of times, they bounce right off the relatively narrow cross bars and uprights.
Try as they might, the girls of the De Soto soccer team can't generate a consistent offense.
Good thing they seem to have found a reliable defense.
De Soto outlasted Maranatha 1-0 Tuesday night to win its fifth-straight game, and while it was often offensive near misses that caused the home crowd to get loud, coach Darren Erpelding said it was the defense that saved the day.
"Our defense is playing very well," Erpelding said. "They're doing a great job. They're getting their marks. They're running people down and they're making people do what they don't want to."
The game's lone goal came off the foot of Jeni Hill early in the second half, but it was bookended by spectacular misses and strong goalie play on both sides.
Maranatha's Sarah Moyer had a shot stopped by De Soto goalie Megen Bedford near the end of the first half and moments later bounced one off the right upright of an undefended goal after fighting past Bedford.
Chelsea O'Connor missed just left of the goal after fighting her way down nearly the entire field and holding off a swarm of Wildcats single-handedly.
De Soto didn't have much better luck. Hill, fully recovered from a nagging ankle injury, found herself behind the defense on a number of occasions, but couldn't notch more than the one goal.
She knocked a ball at Maranatha goalie Stephanie Orndorff at the end of the first period so hard that Orndorff couldn't handle it. She knocked it straight up, however, and punched it away from the goal as it came back down.
"Jeni's getting her breakaways, but now she's shooting right at the keeper," Erpelding said. "We need to get her to find the keeper, then find a corner and pass it in."
But the story for De Soto was as much about stopping Maranatha's attacks as it was missing on its own attempts.
Katie Beck was moved back from the midfield just as the Cats began their five-game run and Erpelding said that's no coincidence.
The Eagles wore Beck out Tuesday, sending her sprinting to defend one intrusion after another, but she consistently managed to get in front of her opponent and time and time again made the difference, Erpelding said.
"We had her in the center-mid, but we were struggling for speed back on defense," Erpelding said, adding that it took some real convincing to get him to move Beck back. "I knew we needed more speed and it's been huge. It solidified our defense. She's able to run people down and she has the ball skill that when she gets it, she knows what to do with it."
De Soto's improved defense has been aided by, and very beneficial to, Bedford as well. Since allowing nine goals March 31 in an ugly loss to Topeka High, Bedford hasn't surrendered more than two in a game and Tuesday picked up her second shutout in the streak.
"She has so much more confidence now," Erpelding said. "She knows they're not going to be barraging her anymore. She knows no one's going to come unmarked, so she's playing stronger and more confident."
It all came together in the game's final 10 minutes. Maranatha controlled the tempo basically camped near De Soto's goal. Outside of the occasional long ball to Hill and Nicole Radcliffe, the pressure was all on the Cats.
And they survived. Bedford stopped two more O'Connor blasts, one with just 35 seconds to play and an offsides call with five seconds remaining finally squashed the Eagles final opportunity to take the lead.
"We're finally playing with a defensive mentality where if we're up 1-0, we're not going to let anyone score," senior Carrie Buser said. "We're all clicking as a team and we've gotten to the point where we know what everyone's doing."
Eight regular season games remain, but Tuesday's win had major implications in the Northeast Kansas Soccer League. The win threw De Soto into a three-way tie for first. Mill Valley and Kansas City Christian both also only have one loss.
De Soto will play KC Christian Monday at 4 p.m. and are scheduled to host Mill Valley May 4.
The team is next in action Friday at Immaculata in Leavenworth.