Everyone was sure the through ball was out of reach, but Maize South freshman Gaby Crowell kept going because she thinks she can chase down any ball.
It seemed foolish for Crowell to waste her energy, but then it was as if she was sprinting and everyone else on the field was stuck in slow motion. Valley Center keeper Bethany Reeves was charging toward the ball, but Crowell had made sure it was at least going to be a close play now.
And then with one last burst and a lunge, Crowell turned a lost cause into the game-winning goal that sent the Maize South girls soccer team to its first state tournament. The freshman’s heroic hustle caused a ricochet off of Reeves that hurtled into the net in the 75th minute to lift Maize South over Valley Center 3-2 on Tuesday.
“I just want to go to Topeka,” Crowell said. “As soon as I came out of the game, I had tears down my face. I was so happy.”
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It was a stunning reversal in a second half filled with them, as Valley Center scored first only to have Maize South rally for two goals from senior striker Ryann Burnett, and then find the equalizer with seven minutes to play.
And then because Crowell, a freshman who played sparingly, didn’t give up on a play, Maize South will play in Topeka at the Class 5A tournament on Friday against top overall seed Blue Valley Southwest (17-2).
“They always send her balls that you just don’t think she’s going to get to,” Burnett said of Crowell, “but she’s so quick that she always finds a way.”
Valley Center has risen to prominence with a lineup with only one senior because of its defense, which has been its strength all season. But if there has been a weakness it has been defending through balls with its flat back four.
On Tuesday, Valley Center was caught flat-footed just twice, but that was all Burnett needed. Maize South’s midfield found holes in the back line and Burnett’s pace it into two goals.
“A lot of it is just good timing,” Burnett said. “Our midfielders are really good with sending through balls. As soon as we make eye contact, I know I need to start making my run.”
That was just what Maize South needed after falling behind 1-0 right out of halftime when Valley Center’s Sammy Boese scored.
“That’s when Ryann got on fire,” Maize South coach Marlon Rios said. “She was the difference in the game.”
But Valley Center had one more answer, as Kennedy Weaver stunned Maize South by sending a rope across the box that left the entire defense frozen and watching it sail into the side netting for the equalizer in the 73rd minute.
“That’s why she’s our leading scorer,” Valley Center coach Steen Danielsen said. “She’ll receive the ball, pinch in, and let ’em rip. She’s great at that.”
But Maize South had one more answer Tuesday, and its season continues.
“We’re making history now,” Burnett said. “This is the farthest our program has ever gone. We’re all just so excited right now.”
Second half—Valley Center, Boese (unassisted); Maize South, R. Burnett (Ledesma); Maize South, R. Burnett (H. Burnett); Valley Center, Weaver (Shelton); Maize South, Crowell (unassisted). Shots—Valley Center 0-6—6, Maize South 0-7—7. Saves—Valley Center, Reeves 0-4—4; Maize South, Howard 0-4—4.
Class 6A — Katie McClure scored three goals as Maize beat Manhattan 4-0 in a quarterfinal game Tuesday in Maize. Paige Swanson scored the game’s first goal and assisted on McClure’s next two goals.
In another quarterfinal, Washburn Rural beat Derby 4-0 in Topeka.
Maize (18-1) will face Blue Valley Northwest (17-1-1) in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at the College Boulevard Activity Complex in Olathe.
First half – Maize, Swanson (Toth); McClure (Swanson). Second half – Maize, McClure (Swanson); McClure (UA). Shots – Manhattan 4-2 – 6; Maize 14-15 – 29. Goalie – Manhattan, Fiser 12-13 – 25; Maize, Baalman 4-2 – 6.