Down but not out
The R-S Central Hilltoppers slim playoff hopes took another hit Tuesday as they lost a close one to the Patton Panthers 4-3.
“We knew we had to win out and we come out against possibly the best team in the conference and had as good a shot to win as we did to lose,” Central head coach Scott Rumfelt said after the game.
Indeed the Hilltoppers (4-7) gave the second place team in their conference all they could handle for the duration of the match. Emily McLaughlin needed less than a minute to make her presence felt with a hard shot that slipped through the hands of Patton goalie for a 1-0 lead.
The lead wouldn’t last though as Patton’s Kaitlin Berry displayed the one thing that the Hilltoppers didn’t have an answer for, speed.
Berry split two defenders and flew down the field before firing a goal past Morgan Gilreath to tie the score at 1-1 at the 16:29 mark.
Less than three minutes later, Berry beat her defender again and punched in her second goal of the game extending the lead to 2-1.
“They’re speed, [Berry], she’s just good,” Rumfelt said. “[Berry] is going to get to it if you don’t check her and tackle her.”
The Hilltoppers, fighting for their playoff lives, refused to go away even after the two quick goals.
Leah King worked her way around her defender before finding McLaughlin in the open field with a long pass. McLaughlin then did what she does best and finished at the net tying the score 2-2 before halftime.
The seesaw battle continued into the second period as Berry proved just too quick for the Hilltoppers defensemen. She ran down another long pass and fired the ball over Gilreath’s outstretched arms to retake the lead for Patton.
The Hilltoppers refused to give up even as time ticked off the scoreboard clock.
This time, Leah King took matters into her own hands as she hit a long shot from almost 25 yards out. The ball somehow squirted through the hands of the Patton goalie and the teams found themselves tied again.
“Leah is just special,” Rumfelt said. “She controlled the midfield for most of the game.”
Patton’s Berry effectively slammed the door on the Hilltoppers playoff hopes finally with her fourth and final goal, blowing past her defender and dinking the ball over Gilreath and into the back of the net.
“It may be late, but you know something could always happen. We’re not mathematically eliminated yet,” Rumfelt said about his team’s playoff chances. “(But) if you’re not going to go to the playoffs then it’d be good to end the season beating Shelby and Burns.”