It was disturbingly familiar territory for the top-seeded Republic Lady Tigers (15-7) when they entered action against No. 4 seed Hillcrest (8-14) on Tuesday, knowing that the Lady Hornets ended their season in the district tournament in the previous two seasons.
But a pair of young faces led the charge in making sure Republic's 2016 season would not end in similar fashion for the third year in a row as freshmen Anna Jones and Madison Mitchell combined to net three goals and helped secure a 4-2 victory in the C3 – D11 semifinal round.
“There were a lot of opportunities for both of them throughout the year [to score], but they just weren't connecting,” Republic first-year head coach Kevin Hauck said of his freshman duo. “It's nice for them to step up in a big game like this to help us advance to the championship game.”
Before Hauck's youngsters stole the show, the Lady Tigers looked to one of their mainstays to get momentum on their side early as junior striker Emily Jordan connected from seven yards out at the 27:54 mark of the first half – good for her ninth goal in her last four games to spot Republic the early 1-0 lead.
Knowing that they fell victim to Hillcrest two times prior in district play, the Lady Tigers made sure Jordan's score sent a message that this year's script would be different.
“It's a real confidence booster for us,” Mitchell said in reference to scoring first. “It helps us keep going. We have that confidence to play hard against them and we know that we can actually beat them.”
With 18:22 to go in the first period, the Lady Hornets stole Republic's momentum right back as junior forward Kinsie Williams punched in a score of her own past keeper Jessica Laster to make things even on the scoreboard.
But with just under a minute remaining until halftime, Mitchell, the first of Republic's two freshmen to score in the contest, gathered an on-target pass from fellow freshman Anna Jones and calmly found the net to grab the lead once again for the Lady Tigers – setting the tone for an upcoming second half that would belong to Republic as well.
“In the second half, I really thought we did a much better job when making adjustments and allowing to keep the pressure off us and more pressure on their side,” Hauck said.
That pressure spelled a score by Jones at the 24:50 mark to extend the Republic lead to 3-1 and, just two minutes later, led to Mitchell's second strike of the game in the form of a header to make it a 4-1 Lady Tigers advantage.
“Emily Jordan placed the ball really well right in front of me,” Mitchell said of goal No. 2 for her on the night. “All I had to do was hit it with my head towards the goal.”
Hillcrest added one more goal late to cut the Republic lead to 4-2, but it was merely a case of too little, too late for head coach Denys Hansen as he saw his squad's season come to an end.
“It was really positive here,” Hansen said. “We had no drama, but we just didn't want it to end this way. We wanted to play one more game, at least.”