The toughest team won when it came to playoff soccer.
And tough was how the McPherson High School girls soccer team played Thursday night after shutting out Kapaun Mt.Carmel High School 4-0 in the Class 5A Regional Championship. The Bullpups have punched their ticket to the state quarterfinals for the fifth straight year. The Bullpups knew that to beat Kapaun, they would have to be physical like the Crusaders. Despite both teams exchanging blows the whole day and even a few cheap shots, the officials just let them play it out.
"The physicality was a big key for our game," Bullpups Head Coach Chris Adrian said. "We knew we had to be physically tough. On paper, skilled wise, it was a very even game, but if we can win that side of the game, we knew that would be an advantage for us with the weather and our depth."
The Bullpups had to dig deep and claw their way through the Crusader's aggressive defense, earning all four goals off eight shots. The intensity level was at an all-time high for both teams. Kapaun did whatever it took to slow down the Bullpup's speed, but after 30 scoreless minutes, the Bullpups were on the board first courtesy of Kenzee Godwin's goal off Hannah Hageman's assist. The Lady Pups had the upper hand going into halftime when they led 1-0.
"If we play like that, and they are some things we need to do a little bit better, but we can play with anyone," Adrian said. "Honestly, 0-0 would've been a good score for us going into the half."
The Crusaders had their chance to get at least one goal on the Bullpups, but it was hit-and-miss. At one point in the first half, the wind placed the ball in a different direction in what could have been a combo attack against the Bullpups. McPherson's defense held its own, only giving away four shots on goal.
"We chose to win the first half when it was hot and brutal. We rotate like crazy in the first half," Adrian said.
The game started to slow down, and the Bullpups turned it up a notch as they put up three goals in the second half. Anna Nason scored the second goal in the 30-minute mark off of Hageman's second assist of the evening.
Then 15 minutes later, it was a combo attack from Hedlund to Belle Alexander that gave the Bullpups a comfortable 3-0 lead, and Hageman scored the final goal off Nason's assist to close out the match with only three minutes left. Riley Hett made some key saves as well as she finished with four.
"You can see the belief in them. We knew that if we just play smart and solid, they can see that in them," Adrian said.
The state brackets were released an hour later. The Bullpups, as the No. 2 seed, will host third seed Valley Center High School next Tuesday beginning at 6 p.m.
Contact Peter Holland Jr. by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Petes_Picks_orour sports page @MacCountySports