Murray High vs UHA

Murray High's Emily Hopkins (13) brings the ball up the field Monday night during the Kentucky All-A Sectional 1 title match against University Heights in Hopkinsville. The Lady Tigers recovered from an early goal to, first, tie the match, then win it in the waning minutes of regulation.

HOPKINSVILLE — Somehow, Murray High Head Coach Shauna Traylor knew that Monday night’s long-awaited showdown with University Heights in the Kentucky All-A Girls Soccer Sectional 1 title match would not be easy.

In fact, she said past visits for her Lady Tigers should have indicated that. The small Hopkinsville school has a very strong homefield advantage and not just from a rowdy fanbase. The field is smaller than usual and that can create trouble for teams used to larger fields with more room to operate.

And early Monday, it seemed the Lady Blazers were in a good spot. Up 1-0, they had the Lady Tigers  a bit flustered, until Murray High tied it. From there, it was only a matter of time before the Lady Tigers found the net again, and in the waning stages, they did.

Junior Irene Castillo delivered a perfect header to the feet of junior forward Kyra Jones, who scored from point-blank range with about five minutes left to lift Murray High to a 2-1 win and onto the All-A state tournament later this month in Frankfort.

“Whew! That was closer than it could’ve been,” said Traylor of how her team could have made this job a little less stressful had it taken advantage of some earlier opportunities. “Especially, at the beginning of the second half, we had some good chances.”

Jones had one of those chances with a penalty kick after the Lady Blazers were called for a foul inside their box. However, Jones’ attempt was snagged by goal-keeper MacKenzie Young, keeping the match tied at 1-1.

“She made a good play. I thought Kyra hit it well,” Traylor said of the save. “If we could have gotten that PK to go, then I think we could’ve gotten on a roll and made this not so tough late.”

Even though the Lady Blazers   (4-2) outshot Murray High (6-5) 8-6 on the night, Traylor said her team possessed the ball the majority of the match. Those shot totals only for shots on goal and she said that did not account for the 10 or 12 other attempts her team took that resulted in not actually approaching the goal.

“We did a good job, I thought, of keeping the ball on their end and limiting their possessions. It’s just we couldn’t find a way to get it into the back of the net early,” Traylor said.

And the way this match started, it would have been easy for the Lady Tigers to become unnerved. Just 13 minutes into the first half, the Lady Blazers gave their fans a charge as a corner kick wound up  bouncing off several players. Eventually, it found a Murray High player, and went into the net for a 1-0 UHA lead.

However, the Lady Tigers kept their poise and, when freshman defender Kerigan Welsh popped a free kick in front of the UHA net, Jones was there to slam home the rebound for the stress-relieving equalizer about halfway through the opening half.

“You know, it’s always an uphill climb when you’re in the All-A,” Traylor said. “This could be a real positive for us going forward.”

Murray High will not have long to savor this win. The Lady Tigers jump back into 2nd District play tonight when they host rival Calloway County in the second installment of The Murray Bank Crosstown Classic at the Mallary France Soccer Complex. That match is set for 5:30.

Murray High won the first match, 6-0, on the Lady Lakers’ home turf. Taylor does not expect as easy of a match this time.

“They’re a different team,” she said of Calloway, which has won its last six matches in a row after fighting COVID-19 the entire season. “But we do get up for this game too and we definitely will want to see them (tonight).”  

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