Emma Murray mishit a pair of corner kicks in the first part of the second half, leaving her visibly frustrated at not utilizing the set piece opportunities.
Platte County’s star centerback came up with the right ball at the right time during a Class 3 sectional Tuesday at Van Horn High School. She recorded her second assist on a corner kick in the 72nd minute, locating star junior midfielder Riley Smith for a picturesque header in what became a necessary goal in the Pirates’ 3-2 victory — the first playoff win for the program since 2010 and only the fourth all-time.
“It was such a relief, especially just (Smith) going to the ball,” Murray said. “I got distracted on the first corner where the wind was blowing so I tried to move the flag and so I knocked myself off balance so I was flustered from that one, and then it just kept going so such a relief.”
Platte County’s players and coaches proceeded with a muted celebration after the final whistle, not showing the typical emotion for the moment. The Pirates (24-2) advance to play at Grain Valley in a Class 3 quarterfinal scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, but the closing sequence made the outcome more of a relief than the deserved victory the Pirates envisioned finishing out.
In the first playoff game for Platte County since 2016, senior defender Ryanne Rhude (first minute) and junior forward Hannah Stone (35th minute) tallied goals to give the Pirates a 2-0 halftime lead. The teams then exchanged three goals in a chaotic 3-minute span late in the second half.
Emotions were high for Platte County while protecting the one-goal lead for the final seven minutes, which included an uncommonly contentious exchange between the head referee and veteran Pirates coach Ashlyn Brantley.
“It feels great,” Murray said. “Freshman year me is like crying right now with excitement.”
Platte County dominated chances in the second half but seemed just a fraction off on multiple attacking sequences that could have increased the advantage to three goals. The Pirates took turns pestering Van Horn’s regularly besieged backline through junior forward Allie Corbin, sophomore forward Sloan Kassen, senior midfielder Kylene Loy, Smith and Stone.
Smith fired two shots over the goal in the opening minutes of the second half, and Van Horn goalkeeper Erika Parrish, who finished with six saves, did well to stop a well-ripped shot on target in the 68th minute to keep the Falcons within two goals.
In the 71st minute, Van Horn utilized a quick counterattack to suddenly cut the deficit in half. Against the run of play, Falcons midfielder Anya Linstrom fired a rocket off the underside of the bar on a counterattack that the referee ruled crossed the goal line before bouncing back out into the field of play.
Van Horn found new life down 2-1 with increased enthusiasm to push for an equalizer.
Platte County took just over a minute of game time to respond. Murray’s corner kick perfectly located Smith near the middle of the box, and her header from about 8 yards arched perfectly over Parrish and into the goal to make it 3-1.
“That’s been the way we go throughout the season,” Brantley said. “I mean we’ve been down in certain games and been able to come back. In this game, I didn’t have any doubts in our girls when they scored. We have to work on those things, the lapses that led up to them scoring and them getting in behind, but yeah, definitely proud of them for always continuing to work and never putting their heads down.”
A minute later, the head referee whistled a foul on Platte County in its own box and awarded a penalty, despite significant protests from the Pirates’ coaching staff. Alexandria Christman stepped to the spot and barely managed to beat Platte County senior goalkeeper Avery Krahenbill, who guessed right with a dive right, on a shot that pinged in the goal off the left post.
Platte County then worked to see out the victory despite frustrations and the completely unnecessary exchange of words between the referee and Brantley related to his communications with her players.
“We were really just trying to keep them in front and just keep the ball in their half as much as we could because it was the breakaways that was getting us,” Murray said.
Platte County appeared on the way to a dominant victory based on the opening sequence of the game. The Pirates earned a corner kick in the opening minute, and Murray, again taking from the right side, found Rhude charging into the back post. She hit the ball one-time with her right-footed shot for a slick finish past Parrish.
On the play, Smith stood alone in the middle of the box marked by a defender, while teammates rushed in on Murray’s signal. The connection ended up being between the senior centerbacks that have paired in the middle of the backline all season as the steady driving force behind 16 clean sheets this season for the Pirates.
Rhude now has three goals on the season — all off of corner kicks.
“I actually usually just look for Riley and Ryanne because they’re the ones that will just completely go for it,” Murray said. “So they’re kind of our target players on the corner kick. Everyone else is kind of ready to just to tackle anything in and cause commotion.
“That (finish by Ryanne) was beautiful. The way I was looking, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I think that’s going wide’ and then it went in.”
Stone made a nuisance of herself throughout the first half, chasing down balls on the wing to send in dangerous crosses. She seemingly set up Smith for Platte County’s second goal in the 17th minute, but the right-footed shot unmarked in the center of the box pinged off of the left post and away from danger.
Van Horn’s best chance of the first half came in the 33rd minute.
On a well-struck shot from the left across the face of goal, Krahenbill (two saves) went full extension to just punch away the shot and send it out of bounds for a corner kick, which came to nothing for the Falcons. Moments later, Stone broke away from two defenders and calmly beat Parrish in a one-one one situation in the 35th minute.
Stone hit a right-footed shot from the right side of the goal across the mouth of the goal and tucked the ball into the side left netting for the perfect response to the scare at the other end. The Pirates’ 2-0 lead would then hold for nearly 40 minutes.
“Coming out less than a minute, getting one in was huge,” Brantley said. “That was a beautiful goal by Ryanne, great ball by Emma. We wanted to come out and set the tone, and I think we did.”
Platte County ended up in the back-and-forth salvo late after ceding the momentum and failing to record a shutout for the third straight postseason game. Despite the dramatics, the Pirates enter the Class 3 quarterfinal on an eight-game winning streak, seeking the second state semifinal berth for the program and first since a fourth-place finish in Class 2 back in 2010.
Both district wins for Platte County were 2-1 over St. Pius X and Kearney (overtime).
Grain Valley (20-2-1) knocked off Camdenton 3-0 in the opposite quarterfinal. The Eagles, winners of the season-opening Platte County Invitational, have only played five games, all wins, since a 2-1 loss in overtime to Smithville, which split the season series with Platte County.
“It’s so exciting because it’s such a good group of girls,” Brantley said. “They definitely deserve it, and to come off of not having a season last year, I think they’ve been waiting for this and put everything into it. It just makes it that much better with the fact they can keep going, keep playing and giving these seniors one more game they can look forward to.”