LOG MOUNTAIN — The Middlesboro Lady Jackets are 50th District champions after getting past a game Bell County team 5-0 Tuesday evening.
Though neither team came in with a gaudy record and were in the title game as the only two members of the 50th District, the Lady Jackets and Lady Cats put on an entertaining and competitive contest. MHS got two goals from Hannah Sorke and one each from Amber Ray, Paige Rose and Lauren Jackson in the win.
“Our plan was to play slow in the mind, but fast in the body. Take our drops and passes and complete those with a soft touch,” said Lady Jacket coach Mark Green. “We had beat Bell once and I was worried that our girls would just come in and take the win and go home. But we didn’t do that, we didn’t beat up on a weaker team. They actually had to work hard and went out an earned the win. Hopefully we can build off it and maybe pull off a surprise or two at the region.”
Middlesboro won the regular season match 11-4, but that game was played 9-on-9. The difference was notable from the start. Though the Lady Jackets controlled the ball for much of the contest, Bell County’s back line was there repeatedly to turn away their scoring chances.
Neither team scored for over 20 minutes and the Lady Cats had a few chances of their own on counter-attacks. With Hannah Hatmaker and Amber Baker both getting good looks at a go-ahead goal. But Lady Jacket keeper Kayci Howerton was there to make the save both times.
“I thought they played really well. We attacked the ball and got some shots on goal, but just couldn’t get any to go in,” said Lady Cat coach Amy Sell.
The score was still 0-0 when Bell’s Rachel Lemons went down with an ankle injury with about 19:00 to go in the first half. Lemons had played a key role in the middle of the Lady Cat defense and was also making her presence known up field on throw ins.
Once she went down, Middlesboro started to find more open lanes on Bell side of the field. Ray won a ball on the Lady Jackets’s side of the field and sent a long pass to Sorke along the left wing and Sorke scored on a lob shot from about 25 yards out that sailed over Lady Cat keeper Kelly Browning’s head and into the goal. MHS led 1-0 with 16:00 to go in the half.
“Our injury hurt, but I think our girls rallied. The rest of the team stepped up,” Sell said. “We had some girls who hadn’t played a lot that got more experience tonight. I’m really proud of the effort these girls gave me.”
Bell’s Callie Mason and Amanda Partin both created some scoring chances with long runs after winning balls in the midfield. But time and again Middlesboro freshmen defenders Makenzie Smith, Tori Lowrance and Olivia Carnes were able to run them down and keep possession for the Lady Jackets.
It was still 1-0 as the half wound down into injury time and Ray found an opening in front of the goal and scored from about 18 yards out as the Lady Jackets took a 2-0 lead into the break.
The second half played out much the same as the first with the Lady Jackets controlling the ball, but not being able to convert those possessions into points. One way that the Lemons injury may have really cost Bell was that leading scorer Cierra Hatfield took over her spot in the defensive midfield and wasn’t able to get out on the counters.
Hatmaker provided the best Lady Cat scoring opportunity of the match about ten minutes into the second half as she pushed past the Middlesboro defense and had a one-on-one opportunity with Howerton. But the MHS keeper came out to make a play on the ball and Hatmaker’s shot went over the goal.
Other than that, the Lady Jacket back line was able to turn away just about every Bell opportunity. Green said it was a matter of his young players playing smart and using their skills.
“Makenzie (Smith) has always been an excellent player. I decided to put in on defense and give her an opportunity to use her skills in a different position. She just used those offensive skills and switched them around to defense. We controlled the ball, which is what we’ve been practicing,” he said. “Noodle (Tori Lowrance) has always been a good defender but we put her at center-back instead of wing. The center-back has got six players that they can pass to and she started using those six players and it paid off.”
Middlesboro still led 2-0 as the clock wound down under 15 minutes and the later it got, the more they dominated possession. Rose, a senior midfielder finally broke through with about 10 minutes to play as she stole a goal kick in front of the net and drove in for a goal from about 15-yards out to make it 3-0.
Two minutes later Sorker struck again, she won a ball near midfield and pushed it through traffic toward the center of the goal box. After leaving a pass out to the wing, Sorke got the ball back and stroked a left-footer into the back of the net form 10-yards out and it was 4-0.
Jackson capped the scoring with goal from close range off a rebound as Middlesboro took the win 5-0.
Though she allowed those five goals, Bell keeper Kelly Browning had a big night with 17 saves in the match.
Both teams advance to next week’s 13th Region tournament at South Laurel.