LOUISVILLE — Heading into the KHSAA Girls Soccer State Tournament, Ohio County had one objective: Keep going, no matter what.
The Lady Eagles’ persistence paid off against one of the toughest defenses in the state Tuesday night, with Paige Brandon scoring a pair of goals to lift Ohio County to a 3-0 victory over Louisville Mercy in the first round of the state tournament.
“It’s just awesome, not knowing anything about a team and coming down to their field and playing how we did,” OCHS coach Courtney Calloway said. “I honestly feel like we controlled most of the game. They had a solid defense, and they stopped us, but Paige Brandon came in and put away some goals.
“We’re super excited for them. They worked their butts off for this.”
According to Brandon, it wasn’t easy scoring against a defense that had surrendered just 11 goals all year.
“They had a really good defense,” she said. “We had trouble in the first half, but I think we really came together in the end.”
After a scoreless first half, Brandon scored the first goal of the night following a scramble in the box with 23:28 left to play. The sophomore struck again less than 10 minutes later to give the Lady Eagles (17-5) a two-goal advantage.
The Ohio County coaching staff had been working in recent weeks to get Brandon acclimated to playing in the midfield instead of the backline, Calloway noted, and it paid off.
“With her size and her ability, she’s really good with crossing the ball over, and it’s something we’ve encouraged her to do,” Calloway said. “She was able to put a couple in, and that was just awesome for her.”
Senior striker Carly Embry, one of the best goal-scorers in Kentucky, faced a defense intent on stopping her. Often facing multiple defenders, she was held off the board until 2:54 remaining, when her shot gave Ohio County a 3-0 lead for the game’s final margin.
“Carly gets more frustrated, I think, more than anybody,” Calloway said. “She wants that ball and she wants to find the back of the net. They did a really good job of defending her. There were sometimes four different girls on her at a time.
“For us, it was about keeping going and not stopping. That’s been our motto since the postseason has started. We knew this game was going to be a tough one, and they pulled through.”
The Lady Eagles finished with a 23-12 lead in shots and claimed a 13-6 margin in shots on goal.
Ohio County senior goalkeeper Gracie Hall recorded six saves in goal, with two coming in one-on-one opportunities by Mercy (14-3-3).
“They like to come at you at an angle,” Hall remarked, “which makes it hard because you never know how to judge the angle. They played a good game, for sure.”
All of that changed once Brandon’s first goal found the back of the net.
“Oh my gosh, I was so relieved,” Hall said, laughing. “I just wanted to get this game over with and stop stressing.”
After the final horn, the Lady Eagles rushed to the opposite side of the field to celebrate with the strong Ohio County contingency that made the trip.
“Ohio County is the best support system ever,” Calloway said. “Today, the girls had the town cheer for them on their way out. We have the best student section. I think that’s what the girls love. Soccer, in itself, doesn’t get enough recognition, so it was really awesome that they could see all the hard work pay off.”
The Lady Eagles, which have now won six consecutive outings, play again later this week when they host Henderson County (18-6) in second-round action.