Lady Devils for seven goals at Russell Soccer Complex, the home team tweaked its defense and prevented East Carter’s dynamic junior forward from taking over again.
Hall’s 72nd goal of the season tied it in the 28th minute, but Russell pulled away for a 5-1 victory in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals Tuesday night.
Afterwards, Lady Devils coach John Perry gathered his players on the sideline. He congratulated them for “playing a complete game and executing the plan to a tee.”
Defensively, Russell constantly kept tabs on Hall’s whereabouts. The junior forward had been on a tear with 43 goals during East Carter’s nine-game winning streak.
“We knew how good she was,” Lady Devils sweeper Ainsley Bender said. “We saw her stats, how she was at the top of the state. We just made a game plan and executed it very well.”
Russell’s defense has been a work in progress all season after key graduation losses. Perry liked the strides made Tuesday after the team focused on stopping Hall.
“Taylor’s a tremendous player,” he said. “She’s strong on the ball, fast and is the hardnosed type that would just as soon play through you as around you. Our defense did an excellent job of making sure she didn’t have open opportunities.”
It started out with Bender marking Hall. Abby Keeton also took a turn. Renae Keeton and Casey Jackson added to the strong defensive effort, while keeper Mercedes Maupin protected the goal in fine fashion on her 17th birthday.
“We had one (defender) back behind in case Taylor did get free, and we were able to shut her down,” Bender said.
The contest marked Bender’s return from a concussion only five minutes into the previous meeting against East Carter.
“I kind of got sandwiched between two girls, Taylor Hall and somebody else,” the sophomore recalled. “We kind of knocked heads.”
Bender played a key role in the rematch with her quickness and toughness on the defensive end. “This is a big win,” she said. “Last year, we went to the Elite Eight for state and I really want to get back there.”
The Lady Devils (8-9) advanced to their fourth region final in five years and 13th since 2000. They will meet Rowan County at 7 p.m. Thursday for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
“Russell deserves credit,” East Carter coach Koty Buck said. “We did some things well and didn’t play badly. They just took it to us. We knew they were going to come out and be a totally different team than last time.”
Russell junior Kylie Busick again proved to be a thorn in East Carter’s side at the region tournament. She scored two goals in last year’s championship and did the same this time.
“I don’t really know,” said the barely 5-foot forward of her postseason success against the Lady Raiders (13-52). “I just came out to play today. It doesn’t matter about my size. I just go out there and do my thing.”
Busick quickly countered Hall’s strike with the go-ahead goal off a pass from Taylor Stamper. Hall nearly tied it in the closing seconds of the half, but her rolling shot glanced off the right post.
“That was a huge point in the game,” Buck said. “If it had gone in, it would have given us a little jolt.”
Busick made it 3-1 midway through the secon half, showing her quickness to set up a shot from point-blank range.
Russell’s Georgia Arrington lofted a ball into the net with just over 10 minutes, and shortly after Stamper followed her own shot to close out the scoring.
Busick called it one of the Lady Devils’ best games of the season.
“It was just all of us working together, connecting passes,” she said. “We worked great as a team.”
“It’s my first year being head coach and I didn’t know what to expect,” Buck said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls, or people behind me. We had a great season. It had nothing to do with me or my assistant coach (Jessi Spillman- Johnson). It was just the girls.”