Confidence. It's one trait that the St. James girls soccer team (11-7) hasn't always had this season. That changed when the Lady Tigers faced off against Osage in the Class 2 District 9 Semi-Final on Tuesday, May 15. St. James scored the first goal of the night and kept fighting all night long on their way to a 5-2 win and a spot in the District Championship for the first time since 2011.
"It was a confidence booster," said assistant coach Beau Moreland. "It was one of those like the old cartoons where the light bulb pops on and it was almost like you could see that bulb pop on."
And that light bulb clicked on early. Not even two minutes had passed before St. James was on the board on a goal by Mikaela Donnelly. That lead was short-lived though, as Osage responded to that early punch in the mouth. Osage found the back of the back minutes later. Less than five minutes were off the clock and they were locked in a 1-1 tie. The race was on.
This was the deciding moment for St. James. At times this season, they haven't responded well when things don't start falling their way. That didn't happen on Tuesday night. The Lady Tigers picked themselves up right away and Donnelly gave them the lead again around the 10th minute. She took a pass from Quinn Paulus and launched a 25-yard bomb to jump out in front 2-1.
"It was great. It was probably her best score all season," said Moreland. "You could just feel it. It got electrical again and everybody was pumped up."
Quinn Paulus spent most of the opening half facilitating Donnelly's scoring opportunities, but the two flipped the script with about 15 minutes to play in the half. The senior took a header from Donnelly and weaved her way through the defense to find the back of the net and St. James went into halftime with a 3-1 lead.
Halftime was another major turning point for St. James. The Lady Tigers have been a team of two halves several times this season. They've had several games where they either have a great first half, before turning on cruise control and letting the game slip away or they've had rough first halves only to pull off comeback wins. St. James needed a full 80 minutes of soccer on Tuesday and that's exactly what they provided.
The Lady Tigers had their only hiccup of the half early on when Osage scored a quick goal to cut the lead to 3-2. Just like they did in the first half, St. James didn't pack it in after losing the momentum. They took that momentum back instead. Paulus scored again in the 50th minute to extend their lead back out to 4-2.
Osage didn't back down though. St. James had a fight on their hands for the last 30 minutes and Osage nearly cut into that lead again with about 10 minutes left to play. Shelby Marcee was called for a handball in the box, so the Lady Indians had a penalty kick with the chance to cut the St. James lead back to one. The Lady Tigers had a huge sigh of relief as they saw the shot fire well over the crossbar to keep their lead at 4-2.
"A big sigh of relief because we knew with 10 minutes left in the game, they were playing as hard as they could and they had twice the amount of girls as we did," said coach Moreland. "Those last 10 minutes of a game where it's been 80 degrees or more out, they're tough for a team of 17. That's where you just don't have the numbers and you hope their conditioning is enough to get it through."
Their conditioning proved to be more than enough and Donnelly put the cherry on top of an excellent win with two seconds left to play when she tapped one pass the Osage keeper to finish off her hat trick and put the final nail in Osage's coffin for a 5-2 win.
Coach Moreland said the fight in that game was perfectly exemplified by Kaylynn Crocker late in the game. She got hit in the nose and was bleeding profusely. She tried to keep playing, but the referees eventually saw her and took her out of the game. After the trainer commented on the amount of blood she simply said, "it's okay, I'm a wrestler." She put a nose plug in and reentered the game after missing about a minute. That level of determination to win was what St. James needed to advance to the District Championship.
"That kind of effort right there from the girls is what really carried us through," said Moreland. "They had great spirits, they all played together and Ivy Fowler had three of the best saves that I've seen all year long."
The win puts St. James in the District Championship for the first time since 2011. They played Southern Boone on Wednesday night, but results were not available at press time. The last time St. James won a District Championship was 2008, when they beat Laquey 3-2 on PKs. They have never won a championship as a Class 2 school.