By the time the Lady Pioneers started playing their game in the District 6-AAA semifinal Tuesday night, it was too late.
Warren County fell 3-2 against Stone Memorial as late goals from Saydee Winfree and Isabel Kirby weren’t enough to dig the Lady Pioneers out of a big hole against the Lady Panthers.
Urgency seemed to be lacking from the start of Tuesday’s home game for the Lady Pioneers and coach Todd Willmore takes the blame for not having his team ready from the start.
“Looking back on it, with a young team I should’ve put it on myself to get them motivated and excited to play,” said Willmore. “It’s my fault more than the girls. I should’ve put more emphasis on it.
“It seems like at the end they realized this could be it.”
Stone Memorial took a 1-0 lead in the first half before adding two goals early in the second half to push the Lady Pioneers to the brink. The Lady Pioneers mounted a furious comeback, one coach Willmore feels would’ve been completed had his team forced overtime.
“I really felt if we would’ve tied it, we would’ve won in extra time,” said Willmore. “We had multiple opportunities to tie it, but shots were just a little off.”
Neither team seemed to gain traction early in the matchup. Playing on a wet field during cold and dreary conditions, both teams carefully looked for spots to score.
Warren County mounted several challenges on the Stone Memorial net, but the Lady Panthers were able to strike first by mounting a quick counterstrike.
Stone Memorial played the ball over the Lady Pioneer defense, getting a one-on-one opportunity with Lady Pioneer keeper Bailey Walker. The junior made a diving attempt at a stop, but the low bouncer found the left corner to give the visitors the lead.
The Lady Pioneers had several chances to tie the game before halftime, but the golden opportunities were stopped in front of the Stone Memorial net. A questionable call also helped the Lady Panthers keep the lead.
Sophomore Natalie Reed was holding possession in the box against Stone Memorial late in the first half when she was shoved from behind. The referee blew the whistle, but instead of giving the Lady Pioneers a penalty kick for a foul in the box – the usual call – Warren County was awarded a free kick outside the box. The kick was knocked around in the box before being cleared toward midfield.
Stone Memorial stormed down the field twice to start the second half to add to its lead.
The third goal, putting Warren County down 3-0 near the midway point of the second half, seemed to wake up the Lady Pioneer offense.
Rylee Hilliard jump-started an attack that eventually led to the senior dishing off to Winfree for the team’s first score. Kirby, another senior, made it 3-2 shortly after when she banged home the ball amid a crowd in front of the net.
The Lady Pioneers continued to attack until the very end when the final seconds ticked off the clock before Warren County could score the equalizer.
It was a tough loss for Warren County to take, but Willmore believes his team got valuable experience that should help the program return to regionals soon.
“This group really exceeded expectations and did a nice job considering how young they are,” said Willmore. “They’re a fun group that did a good job as a team. There wasn’t one superstar so we got a lot of solid contributors.
“It’s always good to have 8-11 girls coming back with experience. I really feel good about what we have returning.”
Warren County finished the year with an 11-6 record.