By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Before she took the shot, Kickapoo defender Grace O’Rourke hoped for the best.
“I was trying to… see what happens,” said O’Rourke, a senior. “Knowing that my team was depending on me and it was getting to the (end of regulation), I wanted to make sure I gave our team a chance.”
As it left her right foot, O’Rourke knew she had hit the jackpot.
“I knew it was going to go in as soon as it was in the air,” O’Rourke said. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness…’ I just knew. I had a feeling.”
O’Rourke netted the game-winner with a long bomb in the 76th minute that lifted Kickapoo past Central 2-1 in a MSHSAA Class 4 sectional on Wednesday night.
Her goal came after Central tried to clear a Kickapoo corner kick. The ball came to O’Rourke, who fired away from 40 yards out.
“We just told her, ‘You’re the point. Take one touch and put it back in (to the box),” said Kickapoo coach Phil Hodge. “That’s why you do that. You never know what’s going to happen.”
With a little help from a backwind, O’Rourke’s ball went over the goalkeeper’s hands and underneath the crossbar.
Said O’Rourke: “I played it as close as I could. And I think a little bit of luck was on my side when it went in.”
Kickapoo advances to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2007. The Chiefs play at Lee’s Summit West on May 25.
Lee’s Summit West graduated much of its varsity roster from last season’s Class 4 runner-up squad.
“They graduated around 17 seniors,” Hodge said. “They’re a completely new team, but they’re very technical and their skillset is above-average all over the field.”
Wednesday’s match turned out much closer than the regular season meeting – an 8-1 Kickapoo victory.
An improved Central team, riding an 11-game winning streak, came ready to play.
“We came in here and just played, like we have been,” said Central’s coach, Dr. Christine Welch. “We fought hard. We had (Kickapoo) on their heels a little bit.”
Central scored the equalizer – and its first state playoff goal in program history – in the 38th minute. Freshman Holland Hawkins drilled a shot through off a feed from Zoe Young.
“In the playoffs, anything can happen,” Hodge said. “That’s what we tried to reiterate to (our players) over and over again. This time of year, with everything else in the world going on but soccer, credit our girls for gutting it out.”
Kickapoo (19-5-1 overall) went ahead 1-0 in the 19th minute off a set play. Sophomore Madeline Wanner’s free kick bounced into the box, and freshman defender Abigail Light converted on a header.
“That’s something we worked on in practice, and we executed it to a ‘T’, so that was refreshing,” Hodge said.
Central finishes 15-7-1 overall and graduates just two seniors in Young and Grace Billionis.