By Matt Sparks
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
FLATWOODS — It was a historic night at the Russell Soccer Complex.
Russell coach Joe Grizzle reached a milestone with his 200th win as the Lady Devils defeated South Laurel 3-0 in the Semi-State round of the Girls State Soccer Tournament on Tuesday night.
After the game, the jubilant coach was getting hugs from every direction by players and parents. To commemorate the event, a team picture was taken under the scoreboard showing the final score. Two minutes were put on the clock to symbolize Grizzle’s number of wins.
According to Grizzle, all the credit goes to his players.
“It can’t get any better than this,” the veteran coach said. “The girls have worked hard all year. I’m just so happy for them.”
Russell advances to the Elite Eight of the State Tournament and will play Notre Dame, champions of the 9th Region, at Lafayette High School in Lexington on Saturday.
Much of the first half was played to a stalemate with each team feeling the nerves playing on such a big stage.
“They (Russell) had some nerves,” Grizzle said. “If you’re not nervous for this game then maybe you shouldn’t be out there.”
“Our switch wasn’t on,” South Laurel coach Todd White said. “We had a rough night. Russell has a good squad, good athletes and soccer players. They moved the ball well and played fast, a lot of one touch give-and-goes.”
Russell was first to seize the momentum on Cara Maher’s goal at the 30-minute mark.
The junior midfielder took control of the ball at the top of the box and weaved her way around several defenders before sending a shot on goal that proved to be too hot to handle for the keeper. The ball glanced off her hands and bounced into the net.
“It is always good to score first,” Grizzle said. “When you do that, the momentum gets pumping and it gets things going. After that goal, they came together and started playing our game.”
Russell (18-5-1) increased its lead three minutes later when Hollie Hencye outjumped a Lady Cardinal defender for a ball in front of the net. Hencye’s header found the top of the net to give the Lady Devils a 2-0 lead heading into halftime.
“Hollie has been strong all year long,” Grizzle said of his talented sophomore. “We have been telling her all this week she needs to shoot the ball more and be more active in the offense and she showed up big today.”
Hencye scored another goal in second half and admitted her long soccer career prepared her for games like last night.
“I have been playing since I was 5 so I don’t feel too nervous,” Hencye said. “Once we got going tonight, we played really hard and nobody let down.
“Cara’s goal gave us the confidence to keep working and we felt we had a chance in this game,” she added.
Russell’s defense shut down the Lady Cardinals for the rest of the game, including stopping Karli Parker, the state’s leading goal scorer.
“They knew about Karli coming in and had one girl saddle her all game long,” White said. “Then they would double or triple team her.”
Parker came into the game with 54 goals and 10 assists but could not find any space to operate because of Russell’s team defense led by junior Shelby Huddleston.
“She is the best defender in the state,” Grizzle said. “Shelby played man to man on her. I couldn’t ask her to do any more than what she did tonight.”
It was the third shutout of the postseason for the Lady Devils, who have outscored its opponents 13-1 in the last four games.
“Our girls were off key,” White said. “Our possession wasn’t there and our best players had an off night. And the girls who supported them were not at the level of Russell’s players. It was one of the worst games we played all year. There is very little positive that came out of it. If we played like we were capable of it would have been closer than 3-0. But we had a good season and beat a lot of good teams, won district and region and made it to the Sweet Sixteen.”
Sports Editor Denis House contributed to this story.