KANSAS CITY — Liberty punched its ticket to the Class 4 State title game with a 2-1 win over Francis Howell Central on Friday, May 31, at Swope Soccer Village.
“It’s incredible,” Liberty coach Tyler Nash said. “The girls wanted it. …This has always been the goal, put ourselves in this position to win.”
It took nearly a half of soccer for the Blue Jays to break through despite controlling the possession for the majority of the first 40 minutes.
“They were playing great defense,” Nash said. “They were putting a lot of pressure on us defensively and they were frustrating us.”
Senior Emma Cronin broke the scoreless tie in the 34th minute, turning a feed from sophomore Maya Gaona into a 1-0 lead – which stood until halftime – with her left foot for her second goal on the season.
“Being able to break through and put that one in kind of got us into a relaxed position,” Nash said.
Liberty (22-2) got back to work on the offensive end in the opening minutes of the second half spearheaded by Madilyn Hamline. The junior, who finished with 11 of the Blue Jays 16 shots on the afternoon, had been turned away by the Spartans (15-9-1) defense in the first half.
“I have a team that backs me up and I knew if that I stopped that they would stop and they didn’t let me stop,” Hamline said.
Hamline produced a one-on-one with Francis Howell Central keeper Caitlyn Brown within the first two minutes of the second half, then deftly sidestepped the goalie for an open net opportunity.
“I saw her coming out and I knew I needed to take that touch or she was going to pummel me,” Hamline said. “I fought for that ball and wanted it in the back of the net, so that is where I took it.”
A final touch was all she needed to secure the eventual game-winner for Liberty and her 29th goal of the season.
The Spartans had an immediate answer for the Blue Jays' second goal.
“We had lost a little bit of that swagger after we got that goal. Our intensity dropped off,” Nash said. “... Credit to Francis Howell, they never gave up at all.”
Olivia Fong took away the Blue Jay shutout in the 44th minute on a counterattack assisted by Gillian Nicholson. That would be all the Blue Jays allowed, holding off the Spartans for the final 36 minutes to reach its first state title game since 2011.
“We never gave up,” Nash said. “We knew what it would take to get through that game. We knew it was going to have to give everything and more to put ourselves in that position and the girls were willing to do it.”
The Blue Jays outshot the Spartans 16-9 with 11 of their shots coming on goal.
Liberty keeper Ashton Maloney produced three saves.