COLUMBIA — All Hickman wanted was a rematch. On Tuesday, the fourth-seeded Kewpies got one and took advantage, hanging on to beat top-seeded Rock Bridge 1-0 in the Class 3, District 9 semifinals at Hickman. The Kewpies had lost to the Bruins 2-1 on Sept. 30.
Tuesday's winner came when HIckman senior George Plakorus scored from a free kick in the eighth minute on a botched cross to fellow senior, Matt Baker.
“I noticed in other games that he (Baker) would make his run to the near post,” Plakorus said. “So that is where I tried to put it to where, even if he missed it, it was on the goal. I guess he went to hit it, but he missed, and the keeper couldn’t get to it far-post. It’s good to get lucky.”
Hickman coach Adam Taylor didn’t think the goal enough to give his team a victory. Since he took over as head coach on Oct. 2, Taylor has added an extra forward to put pressure on the opposing teams and get some extra scoring opportunities.
“When coach Taylor took over he just gave us a little more freedom to shoot,” Plakorus said. “And that’s why he put that extra guy up top. It gives him more shots and more chances to finish.”
The extra pressure from the Kewpies in the first half was a completely different scenario for junior Rock Bridge goalkeeper, Brady Wulff. In the first matchup, Wulff didn’t face a single shot until the 38th minute. He faced five in the first nine minutes of Tuesday’s game.
Rock Bridge also created a lot of the Kewpies early opportunities with fouls. Rock Bridge coach Kyle Austin said it was something that hurt his team early on.
“They (Hickman) utilized their strengths and found feet and their skill players ran at us,” Austin said. “We had trouble with them for the first 10 minutes, but we gave up a few free kicks in our third (of the field), and it ultimately led to the goal. It was a kind of unlucky, soft goal, but sometimes a goal like that is all it takes.”
Taylor said the Kewpies' main goal was to score first and let the Bruins try to catch up.
“I preached to them for two straight days, and they ran the style of play I asked them to tonight,” Taylor said. “I told them that we had to score first and whenever that whistle blew, our goal was to score as quickly as possible, Fortunately we got that goal, and held on all night.”
Hickman almost didn’t get their shot at redemption, though. Going into the seeding meeting, the Kewpies and Troy Buchanan were deadlocked for the third seed, with Troy Buchanan ultimately getting the nod.
Austin said he was a little disappointed when they drew Hickman, thinking the Kewpies were better than Troy Buchanan. But with no head-to-head meetings or common opponents, it was hard to judge.
“Watching Troy play a couple times and playing Hickman and watching them play a couple of other times, I felt that Hickman was the vastly superior team,” Austin said, “But my opinion counts for only one of the five in the seeding meeting.”
Taylor said he thinks that drawing the lower seed and getting to play the extra game against Smith-Cotton (a 7-0 victory) was ultimately a big advantage for his team. Instead of coming out cold against the Bruins, his team got to warm up and get the feel for district competition.
“I was glad to take it (the No. 4 seed) so we could play Saturday, and get some extra momentum,” Taylor said. “It worked to our advantage. We got to feel district play first while they (the Bruins) got to wait for us. You can’t determine the voting because you can’t vote for yourself, but I was happy with it. “
Austin said he was happy with the way his team played, and that there was no shame in losing to Hickman, and thought they were a better team than their record or seed showed.
“They played some tough competition all season-long and hung tough, even with the coaching change and everything they went through. I always said I thought they were one of the better teams in the district, and here everybody has a chance.”
After the emotional win, Taylor said he still expects more in the district final on Thursday.
“I’m really proud of the guys, and they’ve fought hard the past couple of weeks, but we are in no means done.” Taylor said. “We have bigger things ahead of us. We’ll celebrate a little tonight, and even though its cliché, we’ll be back to working on things tomorrow.”
The Kewpies will face off against Jefferson City in the MSHSSA Class 3, District 9 championship at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Robert M. Lemone Field at Hickman.