Wildcats trailblaze way into the finals
Four-leaf clovers are a welcome sign for the De Soto girls soccer team.
Down 1-0 at half, coach Darren Erpelding said he was in the middle of addressing the team at halftime when sophomore sweeper Carly Stanley found a four-leaf clover, pointed it out, and a comeback ensued.
The 2-1 win over Gardner Edgerton advanced the Wildcats into the regional championship.
"We're sitting there talking and Carly goes, 'I found a four-leaf clover!' in the middle of the talk," Erpelding said. "They never get too flustered, it seems. They just play. That's their big thing - they find them in practice. They search for them all the time."
Luck, at least in the first half, was not on De Soto's side. With 10 minutes left in the first half, Gardner was awarded a free kick from the side about 30 yards out. With a stiff breeze behind her, Gardner's Shelby Gunter sent a ball through the air that went untouched into the back of the net, staking the Trailblazers to a 1-0 lead.
The call that awarded Gardner the free quick is still somewhat of a mystery to Erpelding.
"I think Michelle (Faircloth) kept going after the girl - and I didn't necessarily see a foul, in all honesty - but I think maybe the ball got away and maybe she looked to clip her or something and we ended up with possession," Erpelding said. "I don't know the call, but I think that's what he called."
The 1-0 Gardner lead held throughout the rest of the first half, but with the wind at De Soto's back in the second half, the Wildcats knew the lead was surmountable.
"We knew we could get more of an opportunity with the wind," Julie Bray said. "But we were still kind of in doubt whether or not we were going to pull through because we tied them last time."
It took just under five minutes into the second half for De Soto to pull even. Nancy Marquez put a shot into the net off an assist by Nicole Radcliffe and knotted the score. Two and a half minutes later. Nicole Radcliffe took a pass from Bray, got a short breakaway and stuck the ball in the net to gain a 2-1 lead the Wildcats never relinquished. In fact, nearly all of the second half was played on Gardner's side of the field, something Erpelding didn't attribute totally to the wind.
"We just played more aggressive," Erpelding said. "We were moving the ball extremely well and using our outsides, so we were spreading them out.
The second postseason victory means De Soto must now defeat St. Thomas Aquinas in order to advance further into the state quarterfinals. The Wildcats play at 6:30 Friday at St. Thomas Aquinas. The Saints are the ninth-ranked team in the nation, according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Their records stands at 14-1-1.
Looking at common opponents, the Saints beat St. James 3-2, while the Wildcats lost 5-0 to St. James.
"We have absolutely nothing to lose. They have everything to lose," Erpelding said. "We have absolutely zero to lose. We are supposed to lose this game. It's a huge mountain to climb, but as long as we come out and be competitive, anything can happen. We might get a goal early on and hang on to it."