HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Butler soccer advanced to the Region VI semifinals with a 3-2 road victory over Hutchinson on Saturday afternoon from the Salthawk Sports Complex.
Playing against the Blue Dragons for the first time since 2015, the Grizzlies (12-5-1 overall) received early first-half goals from Alyssa Stewart and Pricsila Bonilla for a 2-0 halftime lead, then got a late insurance goal in the 71st minute from Sandra Thiman.
Butler advances to play Jayhawk East champion Cowley in the Region VI semifinals on Friday at 2:30 p.m. Cowley, who defeated Dodge City 1-0 in Sunday's quarterfinal, edged Butler in a pair one-goal games in both regular season meetings in enroute to its first conference title in school history.
Sunday's winner will advance to the NJCAA Plains District Tournament in Wichita, which will be held on Nov. 6-7 at Stryker Sports Complex. The other Region VI semifinal pits Johnson County against Kansas City Kansas, as all four East teams won its respective quarterfinal contests.
Against Hutchinson, Stewart scored the opening goal just 5:48 in the contest with a left-footed 20-yard chip shot over Hutch keeper Chiara Soergei. A Butler defensive stop on the other end followed by a long pass to midfield by Maizi Garwood set up the goal. With Stewart and Rachel Wolecki challenging a Hutch defender for the ball, Wolecki poked it forward to Stewart, who sped past her defender with a dribble and took the open shot.
Butler grabbed a 2-0 lead in the 12th minute on a Pricsila Bonilla goal from outside the 18-yard box. Acsa Reyes fed an upfield pass from the sideline to Wolecki, who had a pair of Blue Dragons crash in to defend the ball. Wolecki then passed off to an open Bonilla, who took a one-touch right-footed shot and put the ball inside the left post past Soergei.
"The lead allowed us to relax and put the pressure on Hutch to chase the game, instead of us," said Butler head coach Adam Hunter. "We were able to take advantage of a high backline and pressing their defenders to create turnovers, forcing them to take longer to find the game."
The Grizzlies took the 2-0 lead into halftime, but Hutchinson cut the lead to one just two minutes into the second half when Dianne Rubio scored off a loose ball on a corner kick. Syeria Matthias headed the kick out to Rubio, who fired off a shot just off the gloves of Butler keeper Lexi Winkle and into the left corner for the goal.
Butler gained the two-goal advantage back in the 71st minute when Sandra Thiman tapped in a corner kick, assisted again by Wolecki.
"After Hutch scored to make it 2-1, we knew there would be a momentum swing," Hunter said. "The message was to remain focused on our jobs and the big picture. We executed another corner kick goal which proved to be the game winner from Sandra. She is such an important piece to our success and she proved it again by giving us the breathing room we needed to get to the end of the game."
Hutch would add a goal in the 81st minute from Esther Karhayu, but the Grizzlies kept the Blue Dragons from getting an equalizer.
Wolecki was a key piece to the Grizzlies' victory, as she finished with three assists on the day. In the last five games, Wolecki has registered at least one point in each game, scoring four goals and five assists over that span.
"Since moving Rachel to forward, she has been our offensive catalyst. Rachel was able to get the ball to the players who needed it, when they needed it and where they needed it today. She has the ability to make things happen in the final third.
Since Hutchinson began its soccer program in 2005, the two teams were long-time rivals in the Jayhawk Conference. After the conference split in two divisions for the 2016 season, the teams were put in opposite divisions, putting the rivalry on hiatus until Saturday's Region VI quarterfinal.
"Because of the long layoff since our last encounter with Hutch, the game didn't have the same buildup," Hunter said. "The vibe was more of an elimination playoff game than a game against Hutch. Our players in 2019 don't have any perspective on the old rivalry that used to play out yearly. But at Butler, it is always a good day if you get a result against Hutch."
NOTES: With the win, Butler maintains the all-time series lead against Hutchinson with an 11-8 advantage. The Grizzlies are now 4-4 in Region VI play vs. the Blue Dragons and own a 5-2 series lead in games played at Hutchinson… Butler improves to 16-0 in Region VI quarterfinal games.