BY MATTHEW SPARKS
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
LOUISA Russell has plenty of talent to shoulder the load, especially when a teammate is hurting.
But with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line, you dance with the Devil you know.
Playing through a painful shoulder injury, star forward Kynidee Allen made her presence known at the Lawrence County Soccer Complex with two first-half goals, more than enough offense for the defensive-minded Lady Devils.
Russell kept a high-octane Lawrence County offense scoreless and advanced with a 2-0 win on Monday night in the Semi-State round of the girls soccer state tournament.
Allen reinjured the same shoulder that has plagued since her sophomore year against Ashland in the 16th Region final, but there was no way it would keep her out from a postseason game.
“Not very good,” Allen said when asked how her shoulder was feeling after the match. “There was a couple of tugs, pulls and hits on it. We’ve taken a few precautions. We have a couple of trainers on the team that help me as much as they can. I iced it all day at school to try and keep it as numb as possible.”
Allen increased her season goal total to 25, but her toughness tends to stand out, according to coach John Perry.
“She is the key to the team,” Perry said. “I will make no bones about it; a lot of people look to her; rightly so. She has got a lot of skill and a lot of talent, plenty of grit as you saw tonight on the field. She is playing through a tremendous amount of pain. I love that she has looked past the pain to put her team on her shoulders.”
Shots were not easy to come by early in the match. Russell needed a spark of energy and, for that, it turned to senior Abby Keeton. She leads by example with her effort on the field.
“I just try and work as hard as I can every game,” Keeton said. “I think that gets everyone else up.”
“I don’t know if we came out with low energy or Lawrence County’s energy was that much higher than ours,” Perry added. “They came out with high energy but fizzled out near the end of the first half. Abby Keeton is the player that, if you need her, she is there. She is a great player.”
The Lady Bulldogs moved the ball deep in the box and had several chances on free kicks but couldn’t get a solid foot for a shot. The Lady Devils’ defense held them to just one official shot in the first half.
“We didn’t get a chance to connect tonight,” Lawrence County coach Heath Webb said. “(Russell) stepped to the ball well. Give credit to their defense. They were able to get the ball out of the box when they had to. When you don’t capitalize on a team like Russell and let them hang around, they can score goals quickly.”
In the 31st minute, Georgia Arrington placed a through ball to a charging Allen in the box. She slipped around two defenders to blast it inside the right post.
“(Lawrence County’s) Sarah Lycans is one of the best defenders that we have played all season,” Allen said. “To exploit that part of the field, we had to play the one-two ball. Once our team started to play that and realize it was open, that is when the game completely changed for us.”
Just more than a minute later, Keeton got a run and sent the cross over to Allen, who beat her defender to the spot and sent the ball into the back of the net.
“She doesn’t get enough recognition,” Allen said of Keeton. “Everywhere you look, she is there. If you are tired, she will do the work for you. She is the Energizer Bunny on the team for sure. She is amazing. She has a mindset unlike any I have seen in my life.”
It will be the third straight trip to the Elite Eight for Russell (14-4-1). It will mean the final one for Keeton and the seniors, which makes it even more special.
“This was our goal,” Keeton said. “We played this season to try and make it here again, especially the seniors because it’s our last year. We are really excited, and this game upped our confidence a bit heading into this weekend.”
Russell disrupted the offensive flow of the Lady Bulldogs. Perry said the team executed the game plan well as Lawrence County had trouble finding clean looks at the net in the second half.
The Lady Bulldogs had scored 135 goals this season and averaged 6.8 tallies a contest.
“We worked on it Sunday,” Perry said. “As long as we didn’t allow them to switch the ball, we knew their only option was to play the long ball. Our defense back there with our midfield, we knew that would/could contain the long ball. … We cut off the angles and had aggressive work in the midfield.”
Lawrence County ends its season with an impressive 19-2 record, the best in program history, percentage-wise. In 2012, the Lady Dawgs went 22-3-1.
“It was two equal teams,” Webb said. “If we could have gotten a goal early, we were right in this game. That is just the way it happens sometimes. That is soccer.”
Russell will meet two-time defending state champion West Jessamine in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Lexington.