Gabby Garcia said hello to an old friend Wednesday.

“Yesterday, my first half back, I was kind of disappointed in myself,” she said. “I hadn’t played soccer for five weeks. Obviously it can be frustrating at first.”

Such was not the case 24 hours later.

Garcia, a senior, scored three goals and added an assist as Elizabethtown defeated rival Central Hardin, 5-4 in the 17th District Tournament championship game at the Elizabethtown Athletic Complex.

The teams will see their region tournament fate revealed Saturday morning at Central Hardin.

“On the counter, any 2 vs. 1 or 1 vs. 1, she’s gonna win it,” Lady Bruins coach Chris Wilk said of Garcia. “She knows the game well and she’s gonna break you down. She’s fast. She’s technical. She’s just a fantastic player.”

Central Hardin took a 1-0 lead 51 seconds into the match on a Haylie Panter goal off a Brittney Music crossing pass.

The Lady Panthers (11-9-2) tied it at 1 at 24:50 when Ann Bell scored off a scrum in front of the net after a corner kick.

Garcia scored her first goal at 11:01 for a 2-1 lead.

“She’s a spark for us, for sure,” Bell said of Garcia. “To see her out there just motivates the rest of us. We’ve played with her forever and to see her out there ... the fact that she scored three goals is absolutely amazing. I could not be more happy to play with her.”

Elizabethtown’s Anna Grace Carter scored at 20:54 of the second half from Garcia for a 3-1 lead.

The Lady Bruins came right back.

Brooke Norton found the back of the net at 16:40 from Music and Music scored 60 seconds later off a corner at it was tied at 3.

“We changed formation a little bit. Put Brittney up, put Brooke up and tried to attack more,” Wilk said. “Obviously it paid off. It sucks that it fell short in the end.”

Garcia made a run off a misplayed ball and scored at 9:54 and 2 minutes and 10 seconds later made another run and was awarded a penalty kick.

She connected on that for a 5-3 lead.

“She adds a little dimension to us,” Coach Pat Black said of Garcia. “She has a little speed up top and can stretch the field for us and give us some more movement inside the middle of the field for us. You have to stay with her on top of the field.”

Central Hardin (13-7-3) wasn’t done.

Panter scored her second goal off a direct kick at 7:02 to cut Elizabethtown’s cushion to 5-4.

“We did a lot of things right,” Wilk said. “We made our runs. We played it into the right people. We capitalized. We finished. We just fell short in our effort.”

Garcia has missed most of the season with a thigh injury. She has not seen the field since a 2-1 Sept. 4 loss at Central Hardin.

“The whole season throughout the injury I just kept telling myself, ‘It’s got to be worth something,’” she said. “I always say, ‘Embrace adversity.’ I had to work through this injury. The team did nothing but support me. They worked hard all season. That’s all I could ask. I tried my best to be a captain off the field. I’m just so glad to be back.”

The Lady Panthers are 8-1-2 after a 3-8 start to the season.

“Struggles and challenges happen in life and makes it interesting,” Black said. “Answering those challenges makes it memorable. We’re answering them.”

Bell added, “The way I look at it is, I’d rather play better at the end of the season, than the beginning of the season. It sounds kind of obvious, but every team’s gonna have little obstacles that they go through during the season. I think it was good that we went ahead and got ours out of the way at the beginning of the season. We needed those games to figure out what worked and what didn’t work.”

Central Hardin is 5-2-3 in its last 10 starts.

“Silly mistakes. Silly, silly mistakes,” Wilk said. “We get comfortable. We put a little 10-minute effort in when it really needs to be a 40-minute effort. As soon as we think we’ve got it back in our hands, it slips out. We can’t let it slip out.”

Named to the All-Tournament team were Garcia, Bell, Carter and keeper Ashley Kerr from Elizabethtown and Central’s Music, Norton and Taylor Eidson. They join North Hardin’s Kiarra Loggins and Madison Parker, John Hardin’s Kaitlyn Rowlett and Kylie Croley and Fort Knox’s Ariel Herter.

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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