After a shaky finish to the regular season, Johnson girls soccer coach Phil Higgins said he was hoping for a confidence-building game in their first-round playoff match against Clarkston.
And that was exactly what they got.
Johnson dominated from the start of the game, peppering the Lady Angora goalkeepers with 37 shots over the course of an easy 9-0 win.
“I think it was a good game for us to just get our confidence back, get to finding ways to score,” Higgins said. “I thought we moved it around well. We didn’t try to just take people on one-on-one. The girls passed. Lots of two-touch passing. Kept the possession most of the time. That’s what we wanted to accomplish.”
With the victory, the Lady Knights move on to the second round of the state tournament, where they will take on the winner of Carrollton and North Springs on May 1.
Johnson got things going early with its senior leaders. Team captain Maria Rivera picked out fellow captain Dani Malone at the top of the box about 15 minutes into the game. Malone was fouled just outside of the penalty area, and Rivera put the ensuing free kick into the right side of the net for the Lady Knights’ first goal.
Emi Kuhs made it 2-0 minutes later when she drove a shot in from left to right from just outside the left side of the box. Rivera put in her second goal only a minute after that — a rocket of a shot from the top of the box that overpowered the Clarkston keeper, who got a hand on the ball but could not make the save.
Later in the half, Malone found freshman Madison Booker with a cross to the middle of the box, and Booker put the ball away easily to give the Lady Knights a 4-0 advantage at halftime.
“Games like this, you get a lot of chances to put people in different positions, and they get opportunities to score,” Higgins said.
Despite the gaudy lead, Johnson did not ease up in the second period of play.
Malone scored five minutes into the second half after following up on a shot that bounced back to her off the Clarkston keeper’s gloves. The Lady Knights put in four more goals in a five-minute period later in the game, with three of them coming from freshman sub Denise Soto — who completed the hat trick despite playing less than 30 total minutes in the contest.
“She’s actually someone we brought up from the JV squad who was a vital part of our JV team,” Higgins said of Soto. “It’s great for her to get the experience up here with the varsity team and for her to have a night like she had tonight. ... It makes us really hopeful for the future.”
With the first round now behind them, Higgins and the Lady Knights turn their focus to a second round matchup that will likely come against No. 1 seed Carrollton. Higgins said he was encouraged by the way his team played Tuesday, but that the Lady Trojans will bring a much more difficult challenge.
“I know the score line looks good for us, but we have a lot of mistakes to clear up,” Higgins said. “... Carrollton is a really good soccer team, and we’re going to have to be playing our best soccer on Wednesday.”