And for the second time in school history, Middlesboro is moving on to the second round of the district tourney and will he heading to the regional tournament for the first time.
Stefano Ximenes' Lady Cardinals (5-9-2) dropped a 3-2 decision to Middlesboro during semifinal of the 31st District Tournament, which was held at North Laurel High School.
The two teams battled evenly for the first 20 minutes of the match. Once again, strong midfield play by Anna Sparks, Ashley Roark and Shaleesha Coleman helped Middlesboro keep the ball in the South Laurel half of the field.
Lady Jacket playmaker Megan Mars was able to send several balls through but the Lady Cardinal defense left few openings for shots on goal.
”We really hustled out there tonight, so I can't complain too much,“ Ximenes said. ”We kind of slacked a bit during the first half, but we picked up the intensity during the second half.
”I don't mind losing the way we did,“ Ximenes added. ”The officiating wasn't that great, but what can you do?“
The Lady Yellow Jackets (10-4-2) won the two teams' only meeting earlier in the season behind the play of Marina Hoe.
Hoe stepped up once again, scoring two goals (her 29th and 30th of the season) during the first half, giving her team a commanding 2-0 lead.
At the 26th minute the Lady Jackets were awarded a free kick from around the 22 yard mark. Hoe hit a hard shot over the Lady Cardinal wall and into the net to give Middlesboro a 1-0 lead. Approximately 10 minutes later Mars sent a high-arching corner kick into the South Laurel box where Hoe headed the ball into the upper left corner of the goal.
Her second goal was the most impressive of the game. She banged in the header from five-yards out, giving her team more momentum heading into the second half.
”Marina Hoe is a very good player,“ Ximenes said. ”She scored those two goals and that really hurt us.“
South Laurel managed to get back into the game, thanks to Callie Miller. Miller assisted Meghan Stallcup's goal during the 53rd minute, allowing the Lady Cardinals to cut their deficit to 2-1.
South Laurel continued to pressure but was unable to break through the Lady Jacket defense of Coleman, and seniors Chandler Johnson and Jenny Powell.
Middlesboro's Ashley Givens and Megan Luttrell put in strong performances to reinforce the Middlesboro midfield and hold off the south Laurel attack.
”We never gave up tonight,“ Ximenes said. ”That's what I'm proud of. Callie played well tonight for us, too.“
Just when it seemed South Laurel was getting back into the game, Middlesboro regained the momentum, but this time it wasn't Hoe who did the scoring.
Freshman Sophie Robinson scored on a left footer during the 61st minute, giving her team a comfortable 3-1 lead.
South Laurel managed to get back into the game behind Miller's first goal of the game during the 77th minute, but it was too little too late.
But the Lady Jackets were the stronger team down the stretch. With Hoe moving back to defense and helping with some long balls downfield, the Middlesboro girls controlled the late game. Senior midfielder Sparks came out after taking teammate Powell's best shot in the chin, but the whistle sounded just seconds later. The Lady Jackets had earned a spot in the finals.
Even though his team failed to reach the district finals, Ximenes likes what he will be returning in 2006.
”It was very tough this year,“ he said. ”We lost eight players and that hurts. Next year, some of the other district teams will have to go through what we did this year. I'm looking forward to next year.“
Middlesboro will take on tournament host North Laurel on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the regional finals. North advanced with a 3-0 win over Corbin in Tuesday's late game.