BY JAMES COLLIER
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODS Ashland has mastered the art of drawing first blood against district rival Russell on the pitch this season.
Only seven minutes into the contest, the LadyCats took a 1-0 lead off the foot of Jess Brown after the Lady Devils failed to drop back on defense at the pleas of head coach John Perry.
However, much like the previous matchup at Ashland on Sept. 11, Russell responded behind a pair of Kynidee Allen goals for a 2-1 edge at the break.
Russell completed a 3-1 win at the Russell Soccer Complex in the annual “Pink Out” contest to secure the top seed in the upcoming 63rd District tournament.
“I attribute it to a boxer in the ring who has to get punched in the mouth once or twice to actually get up and go,” Perry said of his squad’s slow start. “Tonight, was one of those nights.”
Russell threatened in the opening minute after Allen found herself in a 1on-1 with Emma Dowdy in the goal. Allen’s shot sailed wide of the net, allowing the LadyCats to seize the momentum and cash in for a goal.
With Russell trying to contain Ashland’s Abby Huff, Brown appeared to be in stealth mode as she knifed through the scarce Lady Devils’ defense.
“You’ve always got to know where Abby Huff is,” Perry said. “We did a good job of stopping or stuffing her attempt, but we didn’t have our midfield back and we didn’t have an attempt to step forward and stop that shot. You have to take it as it comes but you hate to go down 1-0 that early.”
Ashland coach E.B Lowman said the early lead was not uncommon in the matchup, but the way his team responded after the score was.
“We actually lead 1-0 at the half in the first game and this game we changed our game plan a little bit and executed it well early on,” Lowman said. “When we scored, we just kind of let it go. We didn’t duplicate it anymore and that was unfortunate.”
With Russell gaining its legs after a “standing eight count,” a pair of fouls — the latter on Russell’s Taylor Stamper — ignited a response from the home team. Stamper followed her foul with a cry of “Let’s go!” echoed throughout the complex.
“Every time there is a physical foul, I know me and my personality, it just gets me going,” Stamper said. “It just makes me want to get and go.” What followed were back-to-back Allen goals and a dominant performance that limited Ashland to only a handful of looks at the net. “That first goal gave us the momentum back,” Allen said. “(Coach) Perry told us it was 00 now and to play our game to win the second part of the first half and the rest of game and we would win the game, and that’s what we did.”
Stamper, a midfielder, won nearly 20 balls off headers that found their way to her teammates’ feet, including an Abigail Keeton second-half breakaway for the Lady Devils’ third goal.
“It’s one of the most important parts of the game — being able to win it in the middle, advancing it to the outside then going back to the middle to our forward, Kynidee,” Stamper said. “She’s really fast so we always try to find those through balls with her up top.”
Prior to the start of the match, both teams decked out in pink attire honored those who have been stricken by cancer by announcing their names and releasing pink balloons into the sky, a tradition that Perry enjoys being a part of.
“I love that we do a ‘Pink Out’ game because it’s very near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I lost an aunt who I was very close with to cancer. For these players and coaches to draw recognition to the cause is huge because this is something the whole area suffers with. There’s probably not a single family that hasn’t been stricken by this illness. It’s extremely important that we can come together, us and Ashland, to draw attention to this cause, and I love it.”