Cry of the (Lady) Banshee’s!
The 2016 story of the Bethlehem Lady Banshee Girls Soccer team was an intriguing one. In a 5th Region Tournament where nobody really wanted them, Bethlehem surprised everyone including themselves for their first EVER trip to State and they didn’t leave quietly either
As Beth Miracle stood at the line several feet in front of the ball, the entire stadium became silent. Elizabethtown and Bethlehem participated in one of the truly classic matchups with the winner given a chance to advance to the State (Sub-sectionals) and the two teams took different paths to get there. Elizabethtown (12-8-1) had played it’s usually schedule littered with All-State participants. They suffered their share of losses early, but by season’s end appeared to be the odds on favorite to represent the 5th Region in the State Tournament just as they had the last three seasons. Bardstown Bethlehem, on the other hand was anything but that. They didn’t have the rich pedigree that the Lady Panthers did. Although their record was among the best and they ramped up their schedule a bit this season (15-7-1) very few saw them as a serious State contender, simply because they hadn’t been one for quite some time.
For the last five seasons under Head Coach Danny Rossoll, they had not gotten past their District Tournament and in fact hadn’t even gotten to the 5th Region Tournament since 2009. Then they were eliminated by Elizabethtown, 2-0. Actually, the Lady Panthers had been the Lady Banshee’s last game in the Region Tournament in four of their five Region Tournament trips since 2000, so why should this time be any different. However this was a different Bethlehem team, they thought. The 19th District was actually much more competitive this season with the emergence of Thomas Nelson (and their dynamic scorer Ashley Ritchie) and the usually talented Bardstown. Bethlehem themselves were no slouch this season as they ran the table going undefeated in the District schedule and won a classic battle in the District Championship game against Thomas Nelson in penalty kicks. Senior Beth Miracle was the last Lady Banshee shooter to end the game as they won their first shootout in nearly five seasons. The Lady Banshees were a combination of speed and quickness which made up for their lack of size. Although there were four seniors on the starting roster, the predominate makeup of this squad was freshman and sophomore’s led by freshman sensation’s Abigail Proctor and Maddie Sparks. It was the youth and opportunistic Lady Banshees that struck first when Sparks slipped a shot past the Lady Panther goalie on a corner kick to put Bethlehem up 1-0 at the half. Soccer fans everywhere in the Hardin County area watched in disbelief when underdog Bethlehem carried a lead deep into the second half and an upset appeared to be in the making. Those same fans were quickly silenced when Lady Panther Carley Pyles redirected a Rebecca Black shot and tied the game with about 20:00 remaining in regulation. It was Pyles, who had the game winner just two days before in the 5th Region semi-final against Thomas Nelson after they had overcome a similar 1-0 deficit at the half. It looked like fate smiled on Elizabethtown and coach Pat Black and they would eventually find a way to win and return to the state tournament like they planned.
Bethlehem had something to say about that. The Lady Banshees tightened up and didn’t allow anymore goals. As the game ended in a regulation 1-1 tie and was scoreless in two five minute overtime periods it would come down to a shootout to decide a winner. It would appear that Elizabethtown would have the advantage because in post season play, the Lady Panthers don’t lose shootouts. In fact, they came out victorious in such situations in the 5th Region Final in 2013 and 2008. This Bethlehem team was different. Despite their experience or lack of it, they didn’t know what pressure was and entered the penalty kick phase loose and happy while Elizabethtown was all business. A Shootout can be like a Wild West showdown: Your five against their five and two goalies. It all came down to that. Bethlehem’s Sophomore Goalkeeper Abby Elder came up with the first big play when she cleanly blocked the first Lady Panther shooter Samantha Wilson and then Bethlehem’s Megan Spalding made her first kick to put her team up 1-0. Lady Panther Rebecca Black and Paige Palalay connected, but Bethlehem’s Abigail Proctor and Maddie Sparks did too, so the Lady Banshees were up 3-2, then the big play came when Elder blocked Cierra Garcia’s shot.
It was Garcia’s kick in the 2013 shootout against Central Hardin which was the game deciding kick. Now it was up to Beth Miracle, who had the game winner just a week ago to finish of Thomas Nelson and she did just that on a kick in the right corner of the net to end the game and send the Lady Banshees to a history making win. Although she said she was nervous you’d never had known it as Bethlehem went 4-for-4 in the shootout and performed in the clutch like veterans. But most importantly they were about to venture into uncharted territory with their first 5th Region Championship. As the Lady Banshees celebrated, the Lady Panthers quietly walked off the field in disbelief as their season had come to an end, while Bethlehem’s is just beginning. In their first Semi-State match EVER, the Lady Banshees started fast against Mercy. Although, the Lady Jaguars had two advantages playing at home and in a driving rainstorm during most of the game, you’d have thought the field was bone dry as they pounced early scoring less than five minutes into the game then adding on to it just before the half.
With a 2-0 lead, the Bethlehem faithful, who showed up in droves were already planning for the Elite Eight, but Mercy had something to say about that. The Lady Jaguars got a goal early in the second half, then with about 7:00 remaining in regulation tied it. Mercy had everything in their favor. A tie score, home field advantage and a driving rainstorm, so it seemed only a matter before they somehow pulled out a victory to advance. Bethlehem had other ideas though as Maddie Sparks chased down a direct kick and scored to put the Lady Banshees up for good, 3-2. The win was their first state win and their ride continued against Henderson County on Saturday with a chance to play in the Final Four.
Against powerful Region 2 champion Henderson County and their 54-goal Supergirl Maddie Griggs, the Lady Banshees continued their torrid defensive pace limiting her to just one shot and her team to just 5-shots total, while Abigail Proctor collected the only goal of the game in the 56th minute of the game. Rossoll’s defense was again superb and as the closing seconds of the game ticked off, the Lady Banshee’s journey was about to continue one more week to the Final Four next Thursday Night when they would face their stiffest challenge this season against a team which had only allowed just 7-goals all season, Sacred Heart. Unfortunately, the Lady Banshees did not have a storybook finish as Sacred Heart showed their power and strength taking a 1-0 halftime lead then adding on to it with three more goals in a 15-minute span of the second half to finish up a 4-0 win sending them to the Championship game. Still, it was quite a season even though they were disappointed, Bethlehem walked off proud of their accomplishments and in a season where they were viewed as “Party Crashers” to the big dance, they surprised everyone including themselves in an unforgettable and record setting season. Perhaps Abigail Proctor said it best “I woke up this morning and thought “Wow! We’re playing in the State Semi-Final tonight.” I still couldn’t believe it.” Neither did a lot of folks. But they do now.
It wasn’t a Miracle, but an Elder
Although, Beth Miracle got the win in both the District and Region Shootout wins, it was Abby Elder who got the save. The sophomore Goalkeeper showed nerves of steel in the front of the net first stopping three of four kicks by the Thomas Nelson Lady Generals to secure a 2-1 win in the 19th District Championship game and then blocking two of four kicks against the experienced Elizabethtown Lady Panthers in the 5th Region Championship game that clichéd the Lady Banshees first trip to the State Tournament. Not bad for a girl, who had never participated in a Varsity Shootout before. “ I was a little scared (in the 5th Region Final) not as much as in Districts, but afterwards everyone told me “Good Job!” and that made me feel good.” And she played in the rainstorm of the ages against Mercy and did a great job despite being cold and suffering numbness in her fingers because of the frigid conditions. Already Elder is garnering accolades for her performances against such dangerous scorers as Ashley Ritchie, Rebecca Black of Elizabethtown and Maddie Griggs of Henderson County.