During its undefeated run through the season, the Hamilton girls soccer team rarely faced the kind of situation it faced on Wednesday night in its 5A-I state semifinal match against Mesquite at Campo Verde High School.
The Huskies had just allowed the game-tying goal to 11th-seeded Mesquite with 24 minutes left to play, just the fourth goal they’ve given up this season.
“I think being scored on definitely was a shock,” said Hamilton senior Rylie Johnson. “I think as a team we had great composure because we knew the game wasn’t done. We knew we were going to get that second goal, for sure.”
Johnson’s confidence was not misplaced. Just over a minute after Mesquite had tied the game, Johnson’s playmaking set up Hannah Kijowski’s game-winning goal, as the Huskies emerged with a 2-1 victory to earn a spot in the title game.
“She’s putting this team on her back,” Hamilton coach Jason Thompson said of Johnson. “She’s playing forward, she’s back there defending corners; she’s everywhere.”
Johnson scored the first goal of the game off of a perfect free kick delivery from Rachel Shedd just 17 minutes into the match. The play looked like something the Huskies spent countless practices perfecting, as Shedd’s pass and Johnson’s run behind the Wildcats’ defense was well-choreographed. But it wasn’t a well-rehearsed play, just two players knowing what was needed.
“We haven’t practiced any set-pieces this entire season,” Thompson said. “That’s just an understanding of the game and what the situation is asking for.”
“I told Shedd, ‘Just drop it over the top and I’ll be there for you,’ ” Johnson said. “And that’s what she did.”
After Johnson’s goal, the match settled into a defensive battle, with Hamilton controlling the ball most of the time. Mesquite goalkeeper Dani Schulz got the start in place of Taylor Rice, who received a red card in the Wildcats’ quarterfinal win over Highland. Schulz had five saves, most of the routine variety, to help keep Mesquite just one goal down.
Mesquite finally broke through with 23:55 left in the match off of an outstanding individual effort from senior Aya Shoura. Shoura dribbled through a pair of Hamilton defenders before turning right and firing a high shot that Huskies’ keeper Laura Glew had little chance at.
“She’s been doing that all through the postseason,” Mesquite coach Scott Smith said. “She’s tough to defend and she just rose up and made a play.
“I was kind of curious about how Hamilton would respond because they don’t get scored upon very often.”
Smith’s curiosity didn’t last long because of Johnson. The Huskies’ forward took a clearing pass near midfield and got clear of her defender down the right sideline. As the defender closed the gap, Johnson sent a cross that found Kijowski all alone in front of the goal.
“She had all day,” Johnson said of Kijowski, and she wasn’t exaggerating. Kijowski gathered the ball, looked to see where Schulz was, and fired to the upper part of the goal before a defender got within three yards of her.
“Five minutes after a goal is the most dangerous,” Smith said. “We tried to weather the storm but they just battled through and tucked one away. Credit to them.”
Hamilton (25-0-1), the second-seeded team in the tournament, will face the top-seeded and two-time defending state champion Xavier Gators in Saturday’s championship match at Campo Verde. The Huskies beat Xavier 1-0 in overtime during the regular season and are eager for the rematch and a shot at their first-ever soccer title.
“We were ready for Xavier the first time and we’re just as ready for the second time,” said Johnson, who scored the game-winner in the first meeting with Xavier. “We want it just as bad as them, so it’s going to be a battle.”