The refrain from the East sideline in a nervous final 15 minutes of a Class 6A girls soccer quarterfinal began to get repetitive.
Blue Ace coach Dylan Gruntzel was persistent in his plea, calling out every time the ball got into the final 35 yards of his team’s defensive half, “Don’t let her turn.”
The East players heard him every time though, and their superb defensive effort over those final 15 minutes, as well as the first 65, pushed the Blue Aces past Manhattan 1-0 on Tuesday evening.
“That’s been our style the whole year,” Gruntzel said. “Let’s make people feel very uncomfortable, and I think we did that. We got a shutout against a very good team, a state-caliber team.”
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With the win, East moves on to this weekend’s state tournament at Topeka, facing Blue Valley West in the semifinals on Friday.
That result was far from a sure thing throughout, but especially when the Indians were churning out offensive opportunities early. Looking to make a return trip to the semis, Manhattan had three of their best chances in the first 11 minutes.
A rip from Sadie Samenus in the second minute forced a diving save out of East keeper Caitlin Cordes. The senior posted another sprawling save minutes later, and facing an open net with the rebound, a Manhattan player lifted it over the crossbar to keep it scoreless.
Cordes kept busy as the Blue Aces figured out their own attack, but once they did, it didn’t take long to cash in, with a little bit of help from a defender.
Manhattan cleared the ball after East’s first foray into the box, but it landed in front of left back Brynn Walker, who took one touch to move about 25 yards out and put a lofted ball right on the mark to give the hosts the only score of the game.
“Part of our attack is me as left outside back pushing into the attack,” Walker said. “The way it was going, I thought this might be our only chance, so I just went for it.”
From there, the two sides were more balanced, but the stiff back line from East wouldn’t let Manhattan through again.
East: Walker. Shots: Manhattan 4-2—6, East 1-3—4. Saves: Manhattan, Evans 1-2—3; East, Cordes 4-1—5, Team 0-1—1.