A moment filled with relief, excitement and sorrow sealed the Hickman and Rock Bridge girls soccer teams’ respective fates.
The Providence Road rivals met Thursday evening at Battle High School in the MSHSAA Class 4 District 8 championship match and were scoreless for 67 minutes until a unique goal broke the deadlock.
The game-winning tally, originally rocketed off the boot of Kewpie midfielder Hannah Larson, punched Hickman's ticket to sectionals with a 1-0 win over Rock Bridge.
The Kewpies lifted a district title for the first time since 2016 after the Bruins claimed the previous two championships.
“They went through a lot this year,” Hickman head coach Wil Ross said about his team. “They had to put up with me demanding a lot out of them. So the fact that they kind of see their hard work finally pay off is big.”
Both teams traded chances but couldn’t find the back of the net for a majority of the game. The best chance belonged to Rock Bridge’s Caroline Cole — who sent a low-driven shot off the post early in the second half.
The game-deciding play occurred as the physicality ramped up and Hickman started to find its footing late in regulation. Larson found space deep into Rock Bridge’s half of the field and tried her best to change the game from 25 yards away from goal.
“I knew that if I drove in, the defenders would close,” Larson said. “So I decided to take the shot early, then it hit the post. It was crazy ... my heart sank.”
The junior right-footed captain’s shot hung in the air for a few seconds after rattling off the top of the crossbar.
With the ball in midair above the turf, some of the Kewpie forwards applied pressure to Bruin goalkeeper Morgan Boussad.
Boussad may have lost concentration, for when the ball came down to her fingertips, she couldn’t corral it and accidentally tipped the ball into an open net for Larson’s 27th goal of the season.
Rock Bridge had its chances to find an equalizer on corner kicks and a late indirect free kick with 90 seconds to go, but nothing crossed the goal line.
“I think the fact that we played them so close, we had chances to win that game, makes it hurt a little bit more because I truly think that game could've gone either way ... two inches to the left (Cole’s shot) goes in, one inch higher (Larson’s shot) goes out of bounds,” Rock Bridge head coach Scott Wittenborn said. “It hurts, but I think that they have to be proud of the way they played because that's the best game we played all year.”
Wittenborn was impressed with his team’s effort throughout the match and its ability to keep a player of Larson's caliber under siege for most of the game.
“I think so much of this season was a learning experience for us, just learning a new system, learning what my practices are like,” Wittenborn added.
The Bruins will graduate three players who saw major minutes Thursday, but they return a massive amount of experience in 2020.
The Bruins’ season ends at 11-10-1, while Hickman improves to 14-10-1 and will play Francis Howell for a spot in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday night in St. Charles.
“Most of us haven’t even won a district title,” Larson said. “So if we can make that next step, it's going to be awesome.”
Hickman is Boone County’s last team left standing and is four wins from lifting a state title in Kansas City.
“I don’t want them to be satisfied with just a district championship. ... I think we can play some better soccer but I like our mentality right now,” Ross said. “We’re going to scratch and claw to the last second. So if you play like that, you’re going to have a chance in just about any game.”
For a majority of the Kewpies, the rest of their season is uncharted territory.
“It’s almost refreshing that way,” Ross said. “They don't know what to expect. That can work to our favor. ... We’re kind of going in with that mentality that we don't have anything to lose and we’re playing with house money.”