Persistence pays off with come-back win
De Soto soccer coach Darren Erpelding stood on the sideline with his arms crossed talking to no one in particular, or maybe talking to anyone within earshot. Simply put, he wasn't too focused on whether or not he had an audience.
He was focused on the way his team was playing, and he was wide-eyed and slack jawed -- he looked as if he'd just been punched.
It was the Wildcats that were doing the punching, however.
"Where has this been?" Erpelding said, stunned. "This is how we play."
De Soto rallied from a 2-0 halftime deficit Monday evening to defeat Kansas City Christian, 3-2.
It would seem far from being De Soto's most remarkable victory of the season -- the Cats have beat better teams, won in more thrilling fashion and put on better shows. But Erpelding and the Cats insisted wins don't come much bigger or much sweeter.
After a disappointing 5-2 Thursday loss to Mill Valley and before a week jam-packed with key games and big-time opponents, the precision with which De Soto played Monday was awesome, Erpelding said.
"We finally started playing," he said. "(KCC) is a very good team, but we just wore them down. It was a very nice win."
Despite pressuring the Christian defense through much of the first half and keeping its shooters at bay through much of the period, De Soto found itself in a deep hole to start off the second. KCC let loose only two shots in the first half and both were well-placed strikes that lit up the scoreboard.
Junior dynamo Nicole Radcliffe finally led De Soto's comeback with a lightning-fast goal to open the second half. Just 12 seconds after the period began she made it 2-1 with a ball well beyond and above the goalie's right hand.
"That was the fastest goal we've ever scored," Radcliffe said. "Jeni (Hill) played it to Danielle (Price) who played it to Carly (Stanley) who played it to me. I beat two defenders and got it past the goalie."
While the recipe for that all sounds simple enough, Erpelding said it cooked up something special for the team.
"That was it," he said. "That lit the fire. I don't know why it takes so long to light the first sometimes, but that did it. I could just see it -- that lit it, and then we were gone."
Offensively, defensively, whatever lies between, De Soto dominated it all from that point on. Stanley logged the tying goal after a great assist from Radcliffe with 20 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the game.
She later smashed home the winner too, dancing through the heart of the Christian defense until she finally ducked, dodged and spun her way into a one-on-one confrontation with the goalie, a mismatch Stanley planted in the back of the net.
De Soto goalie Megen Bedford stopped the only KCC shot to come her way in the second half. She scooped up several other balls before they could be booted at her, and otherwise simply took advantage of stellar play in front of her.
Sweeper Katie Beck led that defensive charge. Working the middle of the field, she combined with Kate Beaver, Amber Laudick and Ashley Williams to form a unit whose main strength was help. Whenever a Christian attacker slipped loose and started toward the goal, one Cat blunted the assault while at least one more stepped in to clear the ball out.
Christian did mount several extended offensive possessions in the game's final 10 minutes, but Bedford scooped her second-half save with 1:47 remaining and De Soto's defenders and center-midfielders kept the ball just beyond shooting range for the duration.
"We did a much better job of talking," Erpelding said. "Our outside-mids were great. If they don't play like that, we don't look nearly as good.
"We had angles and options all night, whether we wanted to go forward or back. When it works, that's exactly how it's supposed to look."