Trailing at halftime with a spot in the Class 5A semifinals at stake, Bishop Carroll girls soccer coach Greg Rauch challenged his team to pursue every ball and put the pressure on Maize.
It took less than a minute to equalize and Carroll scored three second-half goals in its 3-1 victory over Maize at home on Tuesday. The Golden Eagles (18-1) punched their ticket to the Final Four of state for the third straight year and the fourth time in the last five years.
No one embraced Rauch’s challenge more than junior midfielder Lauren Brooks, who didn’t need a goal or assist to make her presence felt.
“What a stud,” Rauch said of Brooks. “Sometimes she falls into the shadows because we have two 20-plus goal scorers, but Lauren is an absolute motor and workhorse for us. She set the tone that second half, ‘Every ball you have, I’m going to contest. We’re going to take it to you.’”
Brooks was a wrecking ball in the middle of the field, pressuring Maize into turnovers and winning 1-on-1 battles that helped spring attacks for Carroll.
“I looked across from me on the field and I said, ‘Whatever happens, I’m going to beat her,’” Brooks said.
Carroll needed that type of attitude after Maize, behind its own midfield engines in Cammie Davis and Kaylee Wilcox, held the quality play of the first half and took a 1-0 lead into halftime after sophomore Reina Cline chipped one past the keeper and it rolled off the back post and into goal in the 17th minute.
“We kept them out of the goal and limited their opportunities and scored,” Maize coach Jay Holmes said. “It was going perfect. I liked our chances until the first minute of the second half.”
That’s when the first 40 minutes of good work by Maize was unraveled in 45 seconds, as a turnover in its own third led to a free kick. Carroll’s Taryn Lubbers took the 25-yard free kick and lined a dangerous ball in, just in front of goal, to Carroll’s pair of strikers, Khloe Shuckman and Anna Lasak.
The ball collided with bodies and trickled out of the pile in the box and a foot race between the Maize keeper and Carroll sophomore Paige Stranghoner was on. Stranghoner arrived just before, striking the ball through the gap into goal as she collapsed from the collision.
“I saw it pop out, so it was a full-on sprint at it,” Stranghoner said. “Somebody tackled into me, but it was worth it. It got us more excited and we felt like we were back in the game and got our spirits up to get another one.”
It took another 22 minutes, but Carroll’s next goal again came on a set piece with Stranghoner involved.
This time it was Stranghoner who drilled a corner kick into the box and just over the head of her runner. But the ball was struck with such force that it made for a difficult clearance for Maize, which sent the ball skying high into the air and back toward goal. The sudden redirection caught the keeper off-balanced and the ball sailed into the back post for the go-ahead goal.
“Usually I do more of a lob corner, but they told me to drive it because it’s more dangerous,” Stranghoner said. “It could hit off them, it could go in by us. It doesn’t matter who it goes off of, as long as it goes in.”
Any chance of a Maize comeback was ended when Carroll midfielder Taryn Lubbers won another ball in the midfield and set Lasak free with a perfectly-weighted through ball. With the keeper charging, Lasak delivered a composed finish by slotting it around her for the 3-1 lead in the 70th minute.
Now Carroll will have a familiar foe in the 5A semifinals, St. Thomas Aquinas, on Friday in Emporia.
“The No. 1 thing about this team is that we are finally healthy,” Rauch said. “We don’t have anyone limping into the state tournament. It’s the 19 we started with, those are the 19 we’re bringing with us to Emporia.”