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The Elizabethtown Lady Panthers have a love-hate relationship with Doug Smith Memorial Stadium, their home field.
The love playing on it and they hate losing on it.
And they’ve had some bad losses there in the last two years, falling 8-1 to Scott County this year in their last regular-season home game and losing 2-0 to Central Hardin in last year’s 5th Region Girls’ Soccer Tournament final.
Still, there’s no place they’d rather be as the 5th Region champion Lady Panthers (15-5-2) host the 6th Region champion Louisville Mercy Jaguars (16-7) at 7 tonight in the first round of the KHSAA Girls’ Soccer State Tournament.
“We’re all excited because we all want to redeem ourselves from Scott County. Plus, this will probably be the last soccer game played on this field,” Elizabethtown senior Emily Richardson said after practice Sunday afternoon.
Elizabethtown, which is 23-5-4 at home the last four seasons, is slated to move all soccer and football games to an on-campus turf field.
“So we’re looking to close it out with a win,” said Richardson, who has 20 goals and nine assists this year.
Closing it out with a victory might not be easy against a Mercy team which is playing for respect.
Mercy has averaged a 12-9-1 record over the past seven years. The Jaguars’ previous six seasons came to a close with losses to Louisville powers DuPont Manual (four times) and Male (twice).
“Since they’ve been in a tougher region before this year and (never get) out of that region, that didn’t give them much credit,” said Elizabethtown striker Lexy Hazle, the Lady Panthers’ points leader (26 goals, 21 assists) and Miss Soccer candidate. “I think they’re just as good of a team as anybody we’re going to play. … Just because they don’t have that past (postseason) record does not mean we can just overlook them.”
Elizabethtown and Mercy have not met this season, but they have plenty of common opponents. Mercy went 2-2 against DuPont Manual (2-0 loss), Louisville Eastern (7-0 win), Male (1-0 win) and Louisville Sacred Heart (2-0 loss), while Elizabethtown went 3-3 against DuPont Manual (3-2 loss and 2-1 loss), Eastern (4-0 win), Male (5-0 win) and Sacred Heart (2-0 win and 2-0 loss).
“They’re going to be good competition and any team who has made it this far will be good competition. We’ll have a good game,” Richardson said. “Every game we play, we have to come out hard. And like I said, they’re going to be tough competition because they don’t want their season to end, either.”
Elizabethtown is unbeaten (5-0-1) since the Scott County debacle Sept. 28, when the Lady Panthers led 1-0 in the second half before the Lady Cardinals’ barrage. However, today marks the Lady Panthers’ first time playing at Doug Smith since that setback.
“It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time because we have to kind of redeem ourselves from the 8-1 loss,” said Elizabethtown senior goalkeeper Madison Smith, who has posted five straight shutouts and is allowing just 0.7 goals per game.
Interim Elizabethtown coach Pat Black is coaching in the state tournament for the first time since being a part of the Panthers’ great boys’ teams of the 1990s.
“It’s been a while,” Black said. “But it’s been an exciting season.”
Black said he might be more nervous than his players.
“I was getting up to this point. I really was, because I knew things just hadn’t gone their way in the region tournament the past two years,” Black said. “You want the best for the seniors. This is a big group that you want to wish the best for them. And it would have been heartbreak if we didn’t get out of the region.
“And it will be heartbreak if we don’t win this game,” Black added. “But we know we’re facing a tough opponent and we’re pretty-well matched. So it’s going to be a good battle.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.