The players knew the task ahead would drastically shift in a matter of days, but they still took the opportunity to enjoy one last dominating win in the only guaranteed home game left in the season.
Platte County junior midfielder completed a hat trick in just 13 minutes and finished with four goals, while sophomore forward Sloan Kassen added a brace in a 9-0 win over Grandview on Tuesday at Pirate Stadium. The Pirates won both of their final Suburban Conference Blue Division games by the same score at home, needing just one half of play to invoke the mercy rule.
Now, the attention shifts to an incredibly difficult Class 3 District 16 bracket that includes No. 4 seed St. Pius X (13-7), only moved up from Class 2 due to the new private school multiplier that factors in the Warriors’ recent success. Platte County (21-2) enters with top seed, and a win over St. Pius X would result in either a fourth meeting with second-seeded Kearney (13-8) or tie breaking third with third-seeded Smithville (16-5).
“No freebies,” Platte County senior defender Emma Murray said. “We’re not going to get out of anything easy. We’re going to have to play how we know how to play and just move the ball, work it and do what we know how to do.”
Platte County finished 11-1 in Blue Division play — the only blemish a shorthanded 1-0 loss to Smithville nearly two weeks earlier — and wrapped up the first conference title since 2009. The Pirates enter the postseason on a five-game winning streak after a 15-game unbeaten run ended against the Warriors.
This included four more shutouts, capped with the one-half bludgeoning of Grandview in a relaxed regular season finale. Smith (4), Kassen (2), Murray, sophomore midfielder Mackenzie Shields and senior midfielder Allie Corbin were the goalscorer, while Pirates coach Ashlyn Brantley liberally substituted in an effort to keep key players fresh and uninjured.
“With Riley scoring her goals, we’re getting a good head start and then it not levels the field but we’re kind of sitting in a spot where we can do what we want to do to practice for the next game,” Rhude said.
Up 3-0 behind Smith’s first three goals in 13 minutes, Kassen tallied her first just a minute later by tapping in a cross from junior forward Hannah Stone. The duo combined on an almost an identical goal a minute later, only with Kassen calmly nudging past a helpless goalkeeper at the backpost this time to make it 5-0.
The barrage continued in the 16th minute with Smith slamming in a rebound for her fourth goal after Stone’s initial shot agonizingly pinged off the post.
Platte County then ended up stuck on the 6-0 lead for a good portion of the half with a few miscues on what should have been easy goals. Kassen wandered clearly offside to nix a potential hat trick, while Shields could only shake her head while teammates giggled after a howler at the back post. She sent a shot at a wide open net well high and over the crossbar.
The gaffes extended when Corbin navigated around the goalkeeper only to step on the ball and fall over before getting off a shot, and Rhude pushed forward with a chance to add to her goal account but completely whiffed on a quick turn and swing at a shot inside the box.
“I kicked my own shin. I literally kicked my calf and was limping afterward,” said Rhude, who does have two goals this season as a top target on corner kicks. “Get the laughs out now.”
Platte County’s players kept a lighthearted mood with some playful teasing and eventually broke through again.
Murray, a three-year starter and would be four-year player if not for the canceled season last spring, scored the third goal of her career on a well-placed shot in the 36th minute. A loose ball fell to her about 34 yards out, and her right-footed effort cleared the goalkeeper, who had come off of her line.
“I was just really happy last regular season game I could get one in,” said Murray, who had misfired a similar shot minutes earlier. “The range isn’t necessarily an issue; it’s more the accuracy.”
Shields atoned for her earlier miss in the 37th minute, cutting back with a slick left-footed shot at the left post that cut across the goal and rolled in to make it 8-0.
Corbin scored the final goal in the 39th minute but not without another tumble to the turf. She one-timed senior midfielder Kylene Loy’s cross from the right into the net but immediately collided with senior Mallie Fine, who was charging in looking to score the goal herself.
The goal ended up being a fitting end to a enjoyable but emotional home game for Platte County’s nine seniors.
“You’re going to make me start crying again,” Rhude said. “It’s really hard to believe we’ve gotten this far. It feels like yesterday we were freshmen.
“It does feel weird to step off for the last time, but it almost feels like a reward to finish at home.”
The easy victories to close the regular season were a welcome relief after dealing with injuries and adversity for much of the previous month. Smith, who has scored in all but five games this season, missed two games, including the loss to Smithville, due to a toe injury, and a nagging ankle injury cost Stone a game and a half to further deplete an attacking corps. That’s because junior forward Aleah Dixon had already been out and will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury, and the status of senior goalkeeper Grace Neece remains uncertain due to a head injury.
Platte County senior Avery Krahenbill and Neece split halves for most of the early part of the season with the former now playing all 80 minutes as the unquestioned starter. The two have combined for 16 shutouts in 23 games for the Pirates this season.
However, Platte County could earn an additional home game in the playoffs, but there’s no guarantees. The Pirates do own a 3-1 win over St. Pius X in the first game of the season-opening Platte County Invitational, and they are 3-0 vs. Kearney in addition to the split with Smithville.
The district championship game is scheduled for Wednesday in Kearney.
“Knowing that we beat everyone once is a good thing, but at the same time, we beat Smithville once, and then they beat us one so it’s not like we’re invincible; we’re not unbeatable,” Rhude said. “So we need to play as a team and not worry about the fact about how we played before.”
Platte County struggled until this year with its top conference rivals in the opposite District 16 semifinal. The Pirates will be looking for their eighth playoff trip in postseason history and first since 2016.
Platte County 9, Winnetonka 0
The Pirates dominated another one-half game Monday night at Pirate Stadium during the official celebration of senior night that included Rhude, Murray, Corbin, Krahenbill, Neece, Loy, Fine, starting left back Abbey Rolofson and Alejandra Anguiano.
Corbin recorded three assists, and Smith and Stone combined for four goals total. Krahenbill recorded the clean sheet.
The goals weren’t as bunched, but the start was just as fast. Loy scored on a pass from Corbin in the third minute, and Smith scored her goals in the ninth and 10th minutes on assists from Corbin and Loy to make it 3-0.
Winnetonka held up for 13 minutes before Stone score her first in 23rd minute, and Kassen made it 5-0 a minute later.
Platte County then scored four in the final six minutes to finish off the match against the winless Griffins — Stone (34th minute), Shields from Smith (36th minute), freshman defender Addison Bradley from Corbin (37th minute) and junior midfielder Haley Brunner from freshman Nicole Donaldson (39th minute).