MANSFIELD — Red Oak didn't just trounce District 9-5A No. 3 Burleson Centennial High School 4-1 Thursday at Vernon Newsom Stadium, they remained one of the four soccer teams in the UIL playoffs.
If you ask Head Coach Adam Prachyl, though, laser sharp focus and a competitive edge have made all the difference during a stretch the Lady Hawks won seven out of 10 games.
"Our biggest strength over that stretch was competing hard in every game we played in," said Adam Prachyl, the head girls' soccer coach at Red Oak High School. "I have told the girls all year that they cannot take any opponent lightly and I think their competitive edge is what has helped our team — even in the losses. Each game and opponent is different. Burleson came out hard and fast with lots of energy. I told the girls before the game to play relaxed and confident but eighty minutes is a long time and you can wear yourself down the first ten minutes in the playoff atmosphere."
Pace and three goals from the Lady Hawks ensured Red Oak would stay alive in the UIL playoffs and live to play another week. Midlothian High School's boys and Midlothian Heritage High School's girls are the only Ellis County teams still in the postseason picture.
Waxahachie's Indians fell to Cleburne High School, Midlothian Heritage's Jaguars fell to Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School and Midlothian's Lady Panthers fell to Joshua High School in the bi-district round.
Red Oak's youth again powered their thrust deeper into the postseason after sophomore Madison Humphrey nailed a three-goal hat trick and added a helper to fellow sophomore Makayla Rushing for another point.
"We knew the game was ours at the end of the half. Madison scored two amazing goals and our defense was a brick wall," Rushing said about the transformation of their defense after allowing Burleson Centennial's only goal. "We knew it would only keep getting better from there. It's the philosophy we follow and that we've bonded under since the end of district play. Once playoffs started, we put the entire district season behind us and focused on our upcoming opponents — so it was the same defensive game plan as usual."
Humphrey said taking advantage of key situations — like she crossed it to Rushing and on a scoring header — was something they'd picked up during a tough district schedule.
"I knew that we had it in the bag and had nothing to worry about," Rushing added. "Coach Prachyl told us that it's what happens from the first round and on that really matters and our defense showed we were listening. Our defense let practically no balls through their back line and midfielders and Destiny (Garza) and Maliyah (Mendoza), were beasts in the midfield."
Mendoza is third in total points scored (22) this season behind Humphrey (26) and Rushing (26). She is also tied with Humphrey — only two ahead of Samantha Morgan — for second in goal scored, accounting for the Lady Hawks' 78 goals this season.
From Humphrey's viewpoint, however, the Lady Hawks had a change in perspective going into the third and most important soccer season of the year.
"There's preseason, district and playoffs," she said. "There are three seasons. While each is important in its own way, the reason the first two exist is to prepare you for the third. Coach has reminded us of that all year. That was part of our learning process. We learned that if we keep our head in the game and not let the outside distractions — like as the crowd — and play our best we'll go far. Coach told us the playoffs was a new slate for and that the first playoff game could set the bar for the run we wanted to make. To do that, you need both sides of the field to work as one and our defense last night was great. They pressured, covered and stayed compacted regardless of what kind of adjustments they made. Brooke, Alli J, Sav and Zoie all had our backs."
Red Oak would face its next test on Thursday against either Dallas Spruce or Dallas Molina High Schools. Dallas Molina's Lady Jaguars were District 12-5A's No. 1 seed and Dallas Spruce's Lady Timberwolves held the District 11-5A No. 4.
Dallas Molina beat Dallas Spruce 12-0 on Friday night. The Lady Hawks will look to advance to the regional quarterfinal round for the first time in two seasons after the 6 p.m. Thursday matchup at Kincaide Stadium inside the Jesse Owens Memorial Complex.
They fell to Longview High School 1-0 in 2016.
"We are a different team with different roles this year," Prachyl said. "Each game in the playoffs will be competitive. The teams that are focused have good practices, don't worry about outside influences, have fun and most of all, put the ball in the back of the net. They're the teams that move on."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.