WICHITA FALLS — Brittany Crabtree has scored 37 goals for Guyer this season, but none were bigger for her or the Lady Wildcats’ program than the one she scored in the 43rd minute of Saturday’s Class 4A Region I final.
With midfielder Kaitlyn Caro out of the game after suffering a possible concussion in Friday’s regional semifinal win, Guyer had to turn to a new corner-kick taker in Hannah Alspach. Then after more than a half of soccer was played at a stalemate, the dynamic scoring duo finally broke through for the Lady Wildcats, leading to an eventual 3-0 win over District 11-4A foe Trophy Club Nelson and a berth in the Class 4A state tournament.
Alspach’s corner was headed by Crabtree directly into the ground in front of the Nelson goal, but the ball took a high bounce over the head of goalkeeper Bonnie Ruten and into the back of the net, leaving Crabtree in a bit of shock but full of exhilaration.
“I was amazed it went in, but I was so glad to get that first goal,” said the Guyer sophomore, who scored two goals on the day. “We know once they get down, they’re kind of going to back off a little bit, and once we get the second, they’ll back off a little more.”
The goal not only got Guyer on the scoreboard after Nelson had seized momentum for much of the first half, but it was a huge weight off the team’s shoulders and might have put some doubt in the minds of the Lady Bobcats.
“I think they had momentum the first half, and we came out and got our goal,” Guyer head coach Kenny Blevins said. “All of them were big, but that first goal is always the most important. They [Lady Bobcats] never scored, but they had chances and the players begin to doubt themselves a bit, so you want to get that ball in the net as soon as you can.”
Guyer (26-1) moves on to face an undetermined opponent in the state semifinal on Thursday in Georgetown, and with a win would advance to the state championship game on Saturday.
Nelson — a state finalist in 2012 — ends its season with a 27-3-1 record, with all three of those losses coming to the Lady Wildcats. Guyer defeated Nelson twice on its way to an undefeated district season, knocking off the Lady Bobcats 4-1 on Feb. 12 and 2-1 on March 5.
“We’ve seen them three times,” Nelson head coach Philip Salyer said. “We knew they’d be the team here. They have two very good forwards, [Alspach] and [Crabtree], that you always have to be aware of. Their other players do a good job, and they’re a good team.”
Caro’s absence was a big blow to the Lady Wildcats as she helped spearhead an effort on Friday to hold Canyon Randall without a shot on goal in Guyer’s 3-0 semifinal win. Also missing was freshman midfielder Gairy Natividad, who missed both regional tournament games with an injury.
But the Lady Wildcats found other people to fill the void, specifically starting defender Tatianna Hernandez, who played in Caro’s spot in the midfield — her first time playing the position.
What resulted was chance after chance from Nelson being turned away by Guyer’s defense, many times before the Lady Bobcats could even muster a shot on goal.
“She was everywhere,” Blevins said of Hernandez. “She won every ball in the air. That’s what their game plan was, was to try to dominate in the air. We said, ‘You want to play that way? We can play that way, too.’”
Guyer’s defense withstood a relentless attack from Nelson over the game’s first 15 minutes, turning away a couple of shots on goal while thwarting several other good runs at the goal by Nelson’s athletic forward Marchelle Davis.
The biggest first-half scoring chance for Nelson came about midway through the half, when Hannah Rackmeyer took a run into the box and was tackled by Guyer defender Peyton Bucklew. The Lady Bobcats protested for a foul to be called, but the play resulted in a Nelson corner kick instead, which was turned away.
“Our defense is amazing,” Crabtree said. “We couldn’t do it without them. Peyton Bucklew back there is amazing. She can stop anything. She’s like a wall.”
The biggest scare for the Lady Wildcats, however, came 10 minutes after Crabtree’s second goal had given them a 2-0 cushion. With about 15 minutes to play, Davis made a long run and was one-on-one with Guyer keeper Mikayla Renfroe, firing a rocket from 13 yards out that Renfroe was able to deflect toward the sideline where a Guyer defender cleared the ball and ended the threat.
“You want every goalkeeper to do that,” Blevins said. “Make one save. Just one save to keep them off the board. It makes it harder for her that she doesn’t see many opportunities, but the fact she came up with that out of the blue was awesome.”
Guyer added a third goal off another corner kick from Alspach that was sent over a leaping Crabtree’s head to a waiting Telia Young, who headed it into the back of the net to ice the game.
The last goal also ended any doubt as to which of the two top four teams in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 4A state poll —Guyer was ranked No. 2 and Nelson fourth in the most recent poll — was superior.
Crabtree and Alspach both admitted to being full of nerves prior to the game, knowing they’d have to knock off a familiar team with the proverbial underdog chip on its shoulder.
Blevins was nervous, too, but said he continues to be amazed by the way his team rises to the occasion time after time.
“It’s a good team,” Blevins said of his squad. “Maybe we don’t exactly know how good they are yet. Every time we’ve played them [Nelson], the game has gone up a notch and another notch and another notch. Every time I’m thinking, ‘OK, who’s going to make the next step forward?’ Somehow Guyer makes the next step forward. We still haven’t played our best game. We just keep digging forward.”
Now the Lady Wildcats are guaranteed at least one more game — at most two more — and could be state champions by next weekend.
“This is unbelievable,” Crabtree said. “I want to win it all.”