Blue Springs girls soccer coach Doug McLagan shook his head in disappointment when recalling his team's game plan against the Liberty Blue Jays.
It was short and simple – stop Kaitlan Clark.
The Wildcats did anything but when Clark got her first hat trick of the season, including the game-winner in the 99th minute of double overtime to knock off Blue Springs 4-3 Thursday at Peve Stadium.
“We didn't get the job done – she scored three goals,” McLagan said. “The game plan obviously didn't work, we didn't execute very well and Liberty fought a little harder than us. We should have scored more than we did.”
With the game tied at 3 apiece, a Blue Jay teammate sent a long kick from the Wildcat side of the field and it was controlled by Clark. She managed to outrun three defenders while dribbling the ball 20 yards before knocking in a 15-yarder just inside the right post to push Liberty's record to 8-14-1 and 4-6 in the Suburban Big Six conference.
“She is crucial to our offense,” Jays coach Tom Rottjakob said. “We hadn't had a ton of production going into this game and she has 15 goals coming in. This has been a frustrating senior season for her, but she's been huge for us.”
The Blue Jays, who fell 5-4 to the Wildcats in a double-overtime game in April, felt good after returning the favor, Rottjakob admitted.
“I guess we turned the tables,” he said. “It feels good because we've struggled all year and lost a lot of close games. This was our first win in five overtime games, so this is good for our confidence.”
The victory would not have happened without the help of Liberty goalkeeper Chiarra Franklin, who had 11 saves for the game. Two of those came on leaping grabs the final three minutes of regulation to help force overtime. The Wildcats, who held a 22-18 advantage in shots, including a 14-11 edge for shots on goal, kept the pressure on Franklin, but she made three critical saves in both overtime periods to keep her team in it.
“She was fantastic today,” McLagan said of Franklin. “She was spot on.”
Even in a loss, Blue Springs put forth a solid effort on offense, especially early in the game. The effort was led by junior Shilah Rainey who had two assists and one goal on the night. Her first assist came 1:05 into the game when she sent a cross pass to senior Makenzie Walls, who put in an 8-yarder for a 1-0 lead.
Clark responded with 18:49 left in the first half. She got in front of clear out kick attempt by a Blue Springs defender and nailed the ball inside the right goal post from 20 yards out to tie it. Just three minutes later, Liberty's Grace Elrod found herself with the ball on Blue Springs’ side of the field, weaved through a pair of defenders and scored to put the Jays ahead 2-1, a lead they held going into the break.
“I felt like we dominated the first half until we make a mistake. They scored and we're all of a sudden down 2-1.” McLagan said. “There were a lot of individual mistakes that cost us.”
In the second half, Blue Springs seized momentum. During the 49th minute Rainey racked up her second assist by sending a cross to Gabi Severns, who kicked a rocket shot past Franklin to tie it at 2-2. About 3 minutes later, Rainey was at it again, only this time she set herself up for a goal by racing for a loose ball, beating Franklin to it and kicking it past her for the easy score to capture a 3-2 advantage.
Clark wouldn't let her Jays go quietly, though. With 18:19 remaining in regulation, she received an inbound pass from a teammate which rolled right in front of the goalmouth, where the senior took advantage and put it in for the tie, eventually setting the stage for her late-game heroics.
“We gave her two transitional goals where we were on the attack and coughed the ball up,” McLagan said. “And when you cough the ball up, she has a way of losing the defense and getting a good shot. She will kill anyone in transition.”
With the loss, Blue Springs fell to 11-6 overall and 4-6 in the conference. The team now turns its attention to Fort Osage. They will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals of the Class 3 District 14 tournament.