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Blacksburg spoils Kettle Run’s best defensive performance of year in girls soccer state final

Saturday, Jun. 14 | By Jeff Malmgren
Danielle Contreras and the Kettle Run Cougars lost to Blacksburg, 1-0, Saturday in the final of the Class 3A state tournament. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
The Kettle Run Cougars allowed too many shots in the first half Saturday, and it cost them a state championship.

Yet that Kettle Run defense was furthest from blame for the Cougars' 1-0 loss to the Blacksburg Bruins during the final of the Class 3A state girls soccer tournament at Liberty University.

The Cougars, in fact, summoned their best defensive performance of the season. For 38 minutes, 54 seconds of the first half, they kept Blacksburg from even attempting a shot.

That first half lasted 40 minutes, though, and it was during the opening 66 seconds that the Bruins created their lone shot before halftime, which they converted into a goal.

"We preach all season long that our shot-to-goal ratio has to be high," Bruins coach Travis Eschenmann said with a wry smile. "We were 100 percent. … I'll take it."

Jane Everett scored that winning goal 1:06 into the match after the Bruins won a ball at midfield. Blacksburg advanced the ball to Everett on the right side and she dribbled around a pair of Kettle Run defenders to set up a strike from about 20 yards out. The ball flew just over the reach of Cougars goalkeeper Jackie Doores to give Blacksburg the only goal it needed.

The Bruins produced only one more shot on goal the rest of the game and finished with just five shots in all, but Kettle Run couldn't rally to win for the third consecutive time in the playoffs.

"They had one lucky goal," Kettle Run senior back Kaeley Baccus said. "We held [possession] in the midfield the whole time. … There's nothing [more] we can do about it. It's a bummer."

Blacksburg finished the season with a 21-2 record while Kettle Run ended at 14-6-2 after becoming the first team in school history to appear in a state title game.

"It's always tough to come so far and lose a game like this," Cougars coach Elizabeth Martin said. "But it's still an amazing accomplishment.

"They definitely shouldn't be letting their heads down," she said of the Cougars. "I couldn't have asked for a better season."

Kettle Run began the season with a lackluster 2-3-1 record. Then it won only one of its last four regular season games to enter the playoffs with little, if any, momentum.

The Cougars, however, then went on a magical 7-0 run to win the Conference 27 and 3A East Region tournament championships en route to qualifying for state for the first time in program history.

"We never imagined that we'd ever get to this point," Baccus said after the state final. "It's pretty amazing. Just pride that we made history. We [did] what people didn't think we could ever do."

Along with sophomore Ellie Heflin, three of Kettle Run's seven seniors anchored the Cougars' defense during the state final – Hope Kase, Jessica Dias and Baccus.

"I'm happy that we made it this far," Dias said. "It just sucks that we didn't win the last game, especially because we're seniors."

"But we went out with a bang, didn't we?" Baccus said.

Kettle Run's defense had allowed two goals in three of its six playoff games prior to Saturday. The Cougars' offense, however, propelled Kettle Run through each level of the postseason.

In fact, Kettle Run had scored at least three goals in all seven of its playoff games prior to Saturday and averaged 3.5 goals per game since April 10. Blacksburg, however, shut out the Cougars by weathering eight shots and eight free kicks.

"It was just tough to get it past their defense," Martin said. "Any time we tied to play an air ball, they would win it in the air. When we tried to play it to feet … they're kicking it right back down our throats."

"We just kept running foot races back and forth," Baccus said.

Kettle Run's defense consistently foiled the Bruins' attacks, but the Cougars struggled to transition to offense during the opening 20 minutes of the match. Then, suddenly, they began stringing together passes and creating scoring opportunities, but they never truly challenged Blacksburg keeper Chris Martin.

"Our defense has been strong all year long," Eschenmann said. "You get up a goal, typically you can't count on that to get you through, but with our defense we felt fairly comfortable."

Blacksburg finished the season with only seven goals allowed, including just two in the playoffs.

Kettle Run's Taylor Decker only got off one shot against the Bruins after scoring five goals in the Cougars' previously two games.

"They knew just how good Taylor is," Dias said. "They man-marked her the entire game – at least two players."

Kettle Run's defense matched Blacksburg's defense mark-for-mark, though, giving the Cougars hope that they could rally from a one-goal deficit for the third consecutive game. Kettle Run beat Lord Botetourt, 4-2, Friday after trailing, 2-1, and it beat John Champe in the region final, 5-2, after trailing, 2-1.

"We're a comeback team," Dias said. "We always get the goals back [after] we get scored on in the first half. But it just didn't happen this game."

That rare lack of offensive production couldn't diminish the spunk of Kettle Run's defense. Martin called it the Cougars' best defensive performance of the season.

"I couldn't have asked for a better showing out of those four," she said. "They were utilizing each other a lot better. They were more confident in one another than I think I've ever seen. They were comfortable under pressure."

The Bruins, however, still got that one all-important shot on goal 66 seconds into the game.

"Take pride in that they only shot once … and it's a state championship game," Baccus said. "That's pretty incredible."

"But it's frustrating when you think about it," Martin said.

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