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As the rest of her teammates rushed the field to celebrate Thursday night, Central Hardin senior midfielder Mia Wiersema decided to hang back.
Not only was it the final home game of her standout career, but Wiersema has been battling a bad cold. And after playing the first 78 minutes of the Girls’ 17th District Soccer Tournament title match, she was flat-out exhausted.
With the way Wiersema played, who could blame her?
Wiersema assisted on all three of the Lady Bruins’ goals, two of which went to junior Rachel Mobley, as second-seeded Central Hardin knocked off top-seeded Elizabethtown, 3-1.
“I just have some great people working off the ball and making awesome runs, and usually I’m pretty good at finding people’s feet so I can usually get it to them and can rely on them to finish it,” Wiersema said. “It’s nice I don’t have to second guess them.”
Junior Carly Dyrdek also scored for the Lady Bruins (12-7), who avenged two regular-season losses to the Lady Panthers (13-10) to win their second district title in four years.
Trailing 1-0, Central Hardin had a plethora of chances for the equalizer in the first half as Wiersema had a shot deflected over the goal and sophomore attacker Chloe Sheeran had a shot hit off the crossbar. But the Lady Bruins finally broke through in the final 10 minutes before intermission for two goals.
“It’s kind of like our season,” Wiersema said. “We would outshoot teams but we just couldn’t score on them and it finally kind of trickled through. The game pretty much represented our whole season in a way.”
Elizabethtown had won 10 of the last 11 district tournaments and 16 straight games at Central Hardin, including the postseason. But aside from a penalty kick from junior attacker Dani Wilson in the 11th minute, the Lady Panthers had trouble generating offense as they were outshot 25-17.
“We didn’t play our best,” said Elizabethtown coach Pat Black. “We broke down on defense a couple times and gave them some pretty good breakthroughs and opportunities. We had a few opportunities ourselves; we just didn’t capitalize, especially in the first half. If we could have panicked them in the first half, we probably could have had a couple ourselves. We didn’t finish well, but that’s how it goes.”
In the 31st minute, Wiersema played a through-ball into the box and Mobley finished it to knot the score at 1.
“I was wide open on the side and I just thought, ‘Mia, just play me in.’ We made eye contact and I was ready,” Mobley said. “I played it off the far post. At first I thought it went out because I didn’t see the ball, but then I saw it and started screaming because it made me so happy.”
The goal seemed to take some of the pressure off the Lady Bruins as 4 minutes later, Wiersema sent another ball into the left side of the box which Dyrdek converted for a 2-1 advantage.
And shortly after Black instructed the Lady Panthers to start pressing up, Mobley added an insurance goal in the 60th minute.
“We didn’t really do anything different,” Central Hardin coach Hal Bender said of the difference between the two losses to Elizabethtown and the victory Thursday. “It’s kind of been like chipping at a block of wood. We’ve played our style all year long, it just hasn’t always clicked like it did tonight. We made passes to feet, we made passes into space; things we’ve been working on all year finally came together tonight.”
Central Hardin junior keeper Mikayla Durrance – an All-Tournament selection along with Wiersema, Mobley and Dyrdek – made 10 saves, diving several times to turn away shots from Wilson.
“She made some beautiful saves,” Mobley said. “I’ve never been more proud of her. There were some balls and she saved them and my heart just dropped, like a huge weight off my shoulders. She played beautifully.”
Wilson, senior midfielder Jesse Giles and sophomore midfielder Rebecca Black were All-Tournament selections for the Lady Panthers, who will play Sunday in the 5th Region Tournament against an opponent to be determined at today’s seeding meeting.
“We definitely have things to shore up and pick up, so it was a good learning experience for us,” Pat Black said. “At least we’re not over. Hopefully we’ll learn from it and be a better team the next time.”
Central Hardin could receive a bye into the region semifinals, but it has a 1-in-3 chance of playing in the quarterfinals.
It was a good way for seniors Brittany Brownell, Mikaela Worth, Mercedes Cote, Tori Skillman, Chandi Wilson, Paula Donahue and Wiersema to go out.
“This senior bunch has been great,” Bender said. “Leaving their mark on the stat sheet is one thing, but leaving their effort, their pride and their work-rate, that’s just as important. They did a great job this year.”
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.