With the window for the playoffs nearly shut, the Ardmore Lady Tigers took the field at Noble Stadium needing a zealous performance in a must-win game against Harrah – a squad that was one game away from a state title last year.
But Ardmore came out flat, and Harrah (6-4, 3-0) swiftly snuffed out any lingering hopes for a postseason run Tuesday to the tune of a 5-0 drubbing.
Ardmore coach David Massuere said Harrah is an outstanding soccer team, but was disappointed in his team’s effort and energy early.
“I don’t know if we took them lightly, played scared or what, but we came out slow,” Massuere said. “We came out like we were already defeated.”
Within two minutes, Harrah was up 1-0, and in the 13th minute Harrah took a 2-0 lead, putting Ardmore in a tough spot considering the team's defense-oriented 4-5-1 formation.
In the 26th minute a Harrah corner kick all but ended the game. Ardmore keeper Madalyne Alvarez's initial save following the cross eventually deflected towards the near post. A frenzied scrum at the goal line ensued, but a Harrah boot found the ball first, scoring from point blank range to put the Lady Tigers in an early 3-0 deficit.
Ardmore striker Ashley Monterrosa made a few brilliant runs and Ardmore managed a handful of counter attacks that pushed toward the Lady Panthers' defensive third, but each time Harrah swiftly dispatched the the attack, with their goalkeeper rarely being called to action beyond collecting a wayward through ball.
Looking up from a seemingly insurmountable hole with Harrah controlling possession and moving the ball at will, Massuere said his substitutions after the break gave his team a spark, adding that the Lady Tigers played like a different team in the second half.
“It was night and day,” Massuere said. “When we played our game, we were able to hang with them, a great team. That’s my main take away.”
While the pace and defensive pressure picked up for Ardmore, Harrah still controlled the vast majority of possession and added two rapid-fire goals within a one minute span midway through the second half to ice the Lady Panthers' 5-0 win.
Ardmore still technically has a shot at earning a playoff bid, but it's a long one.
With two games remaining, Ardmore sits in sixth place, two spots behind Ada (7-4, 2-1) and Madill (5-6, 2-2) in the race for the fourth and final playoff spot. Both teams own tiebreakers over the Lady Tigers.
It will take two consecutive wins, one against the top team in the district and the Lady Wildcats and Lady Cougars will have to combine for seven straight losses to close out the season, four against two teams with a combined record of 1-11 for Ardmore to have a shot.
Following a 3-0 victory over Dove Science on Tuesday, Madill sits on the bubble with three games left to unseat Ada. The Lady Cougars have four games left on the season. Ada and Madill each await matchups with district bottom dwellers Millwood (0-5, 0-3) and Bridge Creek (1-6, 0-3). Millwood has yet to score a goal this season and has given up 49 in five games.
After the game, Massuere's message to the team was simple.
“I told them, find your reason,” he said. “We have two games left. Whether it be pride, sending our seniors out on the right note, find your reason.”
And while the last four games have proven to be 'pretty brutal' for him and the team, Massuere said he's seen Ardmore's upstart soccer program make strides and grow — in both wins and their fight through rough patches of adversity.
After taking two wins — including a win in its first ever district matchup — by a 19-0 total scoring margin earlier in the year, Ardmore's first season of district play has been consistently competitive, but plagued by a series of unfortunate and flukey breaks.
In its last game, Ardmore fell to Dove Science 1-0 after a seemingly innocuous clearance by Alvarez careened off the stomach of the only opposing player within 30 yards and careened back to the net for the only goal of a hard-fought game filled with masterful saves by the Ardmore goalie.
In the game before, an iffy penalty in the box resulted in a early goal and turned the tides of a 2-0 loss to Madill.
In March, a wayward pop fly from over 50 yards out wobbled in the wind then dive-bombed through the upper corner off the goal in Ardmore's a 1-0 loss to Class 6A MacArthur.
It's been a season of blowout wins followed by a spate of close, heartbreaking loses.
Before Tuesday's lopsided performance against Harrah, which evened Ardmore's scoring differential at 10-10 and a dropped the Lady Tigers to a 1-4 district record, Ardmore maintained a 10-5 scoring advantage against its district opponents.
The Lady Tigers will face District 4A-3 leading Community Christian (8-2, 3-0) Friday at Noble Stadium.
Community Christian has scored 30 goals and surrendered just one in its last three games, all in district play. Ardmore will close out the regular season against Bridge Creek (1-6, 0-3) April 17 at home.