The 11th Region finals for the girls’ high school soccer tournament is set.
On Thursday night, both Henry Clay and Lexington Catholic recorded comfortable 2-0 victories in the region semifinals to advance to Saturday’s championship match. The Blue Devils and Lady Knights will meet to decide the 11th Region title Saturday afternoon at the Sayre Athletic Complex in Lexington.
Here’s how the two Lexington schools navigated their way to this point in their postseason runs.
Henry Clay 2, Madison Southern 0: Henry Clay head coach Mebit Aragaw can’t pinpoint a moment when the Blue Devils began to turn the corner after a 3-7 start.
But Aragaw knows what has changed to allow the Blue Devils to rattle off eight straight victories.
“The first half of the season, we made so many mistakes. Right now we’re minimizing our mistakes, that’s the only difference between the first half of the season and the second half,” Aragaw said, specifying that defensive play and team bonding have helped clean up those early-season missteps.
Ranked No. 22 in the state in the Oct. 10 edition of the Maher Rankings, Henry Clay has recorded five of its eight straight wins by shutout.
This includes a 42nd District championship victory over Sayre, 3-0, and Thursday’s comprehensive 2-0 win over Madison Southern.
In between these two matches Henry Clay barely got past Lafayette in the region quarterfinals, advancing on penalty kicks.
“It came down to, after every loss, the way they (Henry Clay players) showed up at practice. It gave me the sense of, ‘This team is going to get better,’” Aragaw said of his team’s turnaround. “I kept telling them, ‘This season is going to change. All it takes is one game.’”
Henry Clay’s streak of eight consecutive wins began Sept. 20 with a 6-0 decision against visiting Tates Creek.
In order to increase the streak to nine, and to prolong the Blue Devils’ season, Henry Clay must defeat the region’s most dominant team Saturday afternoon in Lexington Catholic.
The teams met once earlier this season on Aug. 17, with LexCath winning 1-0 at Henry Clay.
“We’re going to leave everything out there, so far that’s what we’ve been doing,” Aragaw said. “We’ve just got to leave everything out there and see what happens.”
Lexington Catholic 2, Madison Central 0: If Henry Clay’s run to the region finals after a slow start was a surprise, LexCath’s continued dominance in the region was expected.
Ranked No. 2 in the state in the Oct. 10 edition of the Maher Rankings, the Lady Knights recorded their 22nd victory of the season Thursday night in overwhelming fashion against Madison Central.
LexCath had the vast majority of the game’s possession and attacking chances, but it still needed more than 35 minutes to break through in the first half to score against resolute defending from Madison Central and sophomore goalkeeper Becca Gordon.
The breakthrough eventually came from junior forward Mary-Martin Hampton, who also scored midway through the second half to complete her brace and confirm the LexCath win.
“To get to the region final is always a goal of ours and I’m feeling confident going into it,” Hampton said. “We just come out every single game confident and that’s really all you can do at this point.”
The Lady Knights have now won 11 straight matches dating back to Sept. 14, including six in a row by shutout.
LexCath has outscored its opponents 32-0 in this six-match window.
“My coaches always said the thing about soccer is the best team doesn’t always win and that is so true,” Hampton said. “We remember that going into each game, we have lost games this season, which is awesome motivation for us.”
LexCath won the 43rd District championship over Lafayette, 4-0, before throttling Western Hills 8-0 earlier this week in the region quarterfinals.
The Lady Knights reached the state title game last season, losing 2-0 in the state finals to Sacred Heart.
Lexington Catholic has also won five of the last six girls’ 11th Region soccer tournaments.
“There is pressure on us. We’ve always been a good team, Lexington Catholic is known for that,” Hampton said. “But the pressure really helps us. Every practice we come out as hard as we can and every game as well. A hundred and 10 percent all of the time. That’s really all any team can do.”
Girls’ 11th Region Tournament
Henry Clay 3, Lafayette 2 (PKs 5-3)
Madison Southern 1, Great Crossing 0
Madison Central 2, Sayre 1
Lexington Catholic 8, Western Hills 0
At Sayre Athletic Complex
Henry Clay 2, Madison Southern 0
Lexington Catholic 2, Madison Central 0
At Sayre Athletic Complex
Noon: Henry Clay vs. Lexington Catholic