Sometimes the better team doesn't always win.
Jefferson City wasn't the better team Wednesday night. Still, the Lady Jays got the only thing that mattered - the win.
Strong defensive play and counterattacking soccer led Jefferson City to a 2-1 victory against Helias in the crosstown showdown at the 179 Soccer Park.
"There's no doubt Helias had the better of the play, but it's soccer," Lady Jays head coach Matt Stacey said. "That's the one thing you've got to love about soccer, that's the one thing you've got to hate about soccer.
"Sometimes you have to defend to win, and that's what we did. We didn't play our prettiest soccer."
Helias held a 21-6 edge in shots, including a 12-4 advantage in shots on goal. The possession battle was just as lopsided.
"We out-possess teams, probably all but two or three teams we've played, and we have seven losses," Helias head coach Brad Dempsey said. "The game of soccer isn't about who keeps the ball the longest, even though you want to. You have to finish. We will, we will when it matters. It's tough on these girls to continually have the same outcome, because we play hard and play really nice soccer."
It didn't take long for Jefferson City to strike first.
A long ball played down the right sideline was misjudged by a Helias defender, allowing Jefferson City's Natalie Vance to run it down. Vance streaked down the sideline and lofted a cross into the box, where Eden Hoogveld ran onto the ball and volleyed it into the net, just above the outstretched hands of Helias goalkeeper Liz Czarnecki. That made it 1-0 just 4:34 into the contest.
"The first goal was exceptional," Stacey said. "Just a great counterattack. Eden had a great finish.
"I think it was good to get the first goal, but after that we definitely swatted the hornet's nest. They obviously put a lot of pressure on us and controlled a good portion of the game."
Helias bombarded the Jefferson City goal with shot after shot, only to come up empty. A lot of that had to do with Lady Jays goalkeeper Becca Sturgess, who made a handful of diving saves on shots that seemed destined for the back of the net.
"We had our opportunities, we had good opportunities," Dempsey said. "They have a great goalkeeper."
With Helias pressuring midway through the first half, Tiffany Weaver was pushed off the ball in the penalty box. Hoping for a foul, the referee kept the whistle in his proverbial pocket.
"That's happened to us a lot lately," Dempsey said. "We've taken zero penalty kicks this year. Zero. For our team, as hard as we play and as many girls as we get in the box taking people on, we've taken zero. Maybe we'll get one when it matters."
Helias' best chance of the opening half came with 10 minutes left. A hard foul on the upper left edge of the penalty box gave the Lady Crusaders a free kick in prime position. Taylor Hagenhoff rocketed a shot toward the goal that Sturgess got her hands on. The ball slipped through her hands and ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar, but did not cross the goal line.
"That ball very well could have crossed the line, but we'll never know," Dempsey said. "We thought it did. It is what it is."
Jefferson City held a 1-0 lead at halftime despite being out-shot 12-2, including 6-2 in shots on goal.
Helias finally broke through 11 minutes into the second half. Maddison Lammers took a feed from Meghan Nappier near the top of the box, turned and blasted a shot into the lower right-hand corner of the goal.
"She's good at that," Dempsey said. "We had a nice goal."
Said Stacey: "I think it's great how we responded after we gave up a goal. The girls never put their heads down."
Jefferson City kept working, kept defending, kept getting the ball out on counterattacks. It paid off again at the 15:55 mark, when freshman Sarah Luebbert scored the game-winning goal.
After cutting through a few defenders on the right side, Luebbert placed a low shot that beat Czarnecki on the far side.
"That's a great individual effort," Stacey said. "She makes a lot of things happen. We're fortunate to have a player like Sarah.
"I feel like once we got the second goal the game completely changed. They just had more numbers forward and we started winning the ball more in the middle of the field. It was giving us some more options."
Jefferson City did possess the ball more often over the final 15 minutes, and did have more chances, but couldn't add the insurance goal.
Numerous opportunities to equalize for Helias proved innocuous.
"I've got to give a lot of props to our defense," Stacey said. "I've got to give a lot of props to Becca Sturgess. She kept us in the game. She made a lot of big saves."
Helias (11-7) hosts St. Francis Borgia on Saturday. The JV game starts at 11 a.m., with the varsity contest slated to start around 12:45 p.m.
Jefferson City (11-3-1) travels Friday to Waynesville.
"It's a good feeling for those kids, for the seniors to go out with a win like that, one they'll remember for a long time," Stacey said. "Then the girls that are coming back, they get to sit on those bragging rights for a year."
Helias won the JV game 2-1 to improve to 11-2-1. Katey Hunt and Julie Harris both had a goal and an assist for Helias. Johanna Schokker and Olivia Wolken combined for the win in goal. Ann Eswine scored for Jefferson City.