While the Union soccer Lady ’Cats wrapped up the Four Rivers Conference title Wednesday night, the Pacific Lady Indians made certain it was anything but easy.
Union (19-2, 8-0) completed its undefeated run through the conference with a 3-2 win at Pacific (6-17, 6-2).
“It was senior night for those guys and they played extremely hard,” Union Head Coach Matt Fennessey said. “I don’t know if we were ready for that with the score we had earlier in the year. They were ready. They came out and played better than we did.”
The result was in stark contrast to the first meeting between the teams, a 7-0 Union win March 27 in Union.
“I told the girls they really did themselves justice after the result we had the first time,” Pacific Head Coach Todd Dempsey said. “I don’t think they expected us to be in this game. It was nice to see us show a little bit of emotion and a little bit of fight. We haven’t had that this year.”
Fennessey said he was proud of his team for doing what it had to do to win the game.
“It was good to see them battle and be in the game,” Fennessey said. “It was good for us to have a little bit of a reality check and know that we need to take care of our business and play good soccer to win games.”
If you didn’t see Wednesday’s game, the teams will face each other again Monday in the Class 2 District 7 Tournament semifinals in Sullivan. Union, the second seed, takes on third-seeded Pacific at 7 p.m.
“We pushed them,” Dempsey said. “I think the seniors wanted to go out and make the game memorable. We had a good effort, played a good game and hopefully served notice for the district.”
Union freshman Bethany Coons opened the scoring in the 21st minute. Coons scored her 48th goal of the season after charging up the middle of the field and beating goalkeeper Sydney Drysdale.
Union had several chances to add to that lead.
Coons just missed the top corner with a hard shot. In the 24th minute, her shot was deflected just wide for a corner kick. In the 28th minute, Bethany Coons, Alyssa Coons and Jordan Thorpe were near the net, but knocked the ball just wide.
Pacific made Union pay for those missed chances. The Lady Indians scored with 13 seconds left in the half. Amber Zurliene looped a shot into the Union net from about 40 yards out. Zurliene seemed to take advantage of the sun’s position and Lakebrink could not make a save.
“I told Amber that if she stepped out onto the field and we gave her that shot 30 more times, I wasn’t sure if she wouldn’t hit it again,” Dempsey said. “I told them before the half, too, that it only takes one. We got the one and we got a little bit of momentum going back into the second half. We honestly asked the girls at halftime, how many would have expected to be at this point based on the first game? None of them honestly could answer this is where they thought we would be. We gave ourselves a chance. We wanted to be in the game. All we talked about was being even or within a goal at halftime, putting a little bit of a doubt into their minds. We wanted to give ourselves an opportunity to stay in the game or stay close.”
Fennessey, a former high school and soccer goalie, described Zurliene’s goal as a perfect shot.
“That’s one of those goals,” Fennessey said. “What are you really going to do about that. We teach the keepers to let the girls shoot from outside the box and not have anything inside and then they hit a 40-yard shot. You take that one. There’s not a lot Briana could do on that. They knew the field conditions. That’s what they were going for. It was a great shot and great execution of the game plan. It took the wind out of our sails going into the half tied again.”
Tied at the intermission, the Lady ’Cats worked hard to change that scoreline early in the second half.
And Union found the net in the 44th minute. Kayla Thornton took a corner kick. The ball found its way to Alyssa Coons, who rolled it to Bethany Coons. Her 49th goal of the season was shot low into the left corner to give Union the lead once again.
Union continued to pressure the Pacific net. In the 47th minute, Kaila AuBuchon just missed high with a header.
In the 54th minute, Union got a goal from Alyssa Coons. Shooting from near the top of the 18-yard box, Coons placed the ball into the lower left corner to make it 3-1.
“Sometimes you get too serious and you get caught up in things and stop thinking about what you have to do right,” Fennessey said. “We just had to get back to taking care of what we could handle and I think the girls started doing that a little better as a team. We started to get a little more possession and ball control early in the second half. Pacific came right back at us and scored a goal. It went back and forth. I didn’t really expect much less. It sets up everything for Monday now.”
That goal proved to be huge as the Lady Indians scored again in the 63rd minute. Kim Myers played a free kick into the box. Lakebrink could not control the ball and Samantha Smiley celebrated senior day by scoring inside the right post.
The Smiley goal came during a period of Pacific pressure. The Lady Indians continued to work for good chances even after taking a red card in the 67th minute.
“Neither of the goals are going to earn style points from anybody,” Dempsey said. “That’s been our M.O. all year long. We score the gritty goals and work hard for them. Kim’s a real good example. She pushes her nose to the grindstone every time out. I think that rubs off on the rest of the kids as the game goes on because they see she’s not going to back down. When we’re within a goal, we give ourselves more of an opportunity to stay and fight. It’s contagious. Everyone buys into it.”
Kierra Mundt had two assists for Union while Kayla Thornton added one. Lakebrink made eight saves.
Myers and Hunter Kelemen assisted on the Pacific goals. Drysdale made eight saves.
Union was able to control the ball enough to hold on for the win.
“It’s nice that Matt and I are such good friends,” Dempsey said. “It never gets personal between us. It’s nice when the teams have competitive games. I’m sure this will be the topic of discussion at our all-conference meeting.”
Playing at home on senior night, the Lady ’Cats clinched at least a tie for the FRC title with a 6-0 win over St. Clair.
“We played well,” Fennessey said. “We moved the ball really well and had a number of different goal scorers. St. Clair played really hard.”
Union scored three times in each half.
Alyssa Coons and Bethany Coons scored two goals apiece. Alyssa also had three assists while Bethany added one assist. Bethany Coons scored the game-winning goal.
Kaila AuBuchon and Bri Clark scored the other goals.
Lakebrink made one save in goal while earning the shutout.
Union honored four seniors in the game, Brittany Faber, Kayla Sitzes, Brooke Breeden and Courtney Groves.
“It was good to get a win on senior night for our four seniors,” Fennessey said. “We’re really happy for the four seniors and what they’ve done here at Union.”