ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Eagles jump out to big lead, hold on to top Buffaloes

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By Brian Forbes

LAKEWOOD — Dakota Ridge’s girls soccer playoff game against Smoky Hill felt like a horror movie – things got really interested just after you thought the antagonist was dead and buried.

The 16th-seeded Eagles were rampant against the No. 17 Buffaloes at Lakewood Memorial Field, stringing passes, attacking in force and from a variety of spots en route to a three-goal lead.

Things got better for the Eagles when Smoky Hill was reduced to 10 players after a red card.

But then the Buffaloes came to life, furiously scraping out two goals as the Eagles had to hang on for a 3-2 Class 5A first-round playoff victory on May 6.

"I really thought after the third goal it was in the bag," Eagles coach Damon Smerchek said. "I thought we actually might put in a couple more ee For them, that red card was the best thing that happened to them."

The Eagles (11-4-1) got goals from Emily Holley, Stephanie Kubala and Kelsey Loupee to build a commanding lead with 28 minutes remaining. Smoky Hill’s Molly Harpster was issued a straight red card 18 seconds later, which seemed like the beginning of a self-destruct sequence for a team that had been relatively lifeless for most the game.

But the Buffaloes (7-8-1) made it 3-1 four minutes later and cut the deficit to 3-2 with just under 12 minutes to play.

"I think we kind of broke down a little bit," junior defender Brittany Cito said. "It was a little scary. They really weren’t that good of goals, but I think we panicked a little bit."

The victory means Dakota Ridge will face top-seeded Grandview (14-1-1) on Saturday, May 10, in the second round. Grandview, which is undefeated against in-state competition this season, trounced Hinkley 11-0 to advance.

Dakota Ridge’s play on the flanks was its strongest hand and factored into each goal.

Holley bagged the opener in the 13th minute to cap a great run down the right side by Loupee. The freshman crossed the ball to the far post where Holley caught it with a leg off the bounce and powered it past the goalkeeper.

"I thought, together, we played really good," Holley said. "Our passes were well connected and we finished really good tonight."

Carly Mace nearly scored early in the second half before Kubala blazed home a long shot in the 51st minute. Holley was attacking from the left side but her shot was blocked by a defender, only for it to fall to Kubala for a 25-yard shot that found the upper corner of the far post.

A little more than a minute later, Holley cruised deep down the right side and slotted a great pass back for Loupee to rush in and smash home.