DENTON – Melissa’s Lady Cardinals knocked out FW Diamond Hill-Jarvis, 4-0, on Monday, April 3, at Denton ISD Stadium to advance to the Class 4A Region I regional tournament for a third straight year. The Lady Cards controlled this one throughout, though their dominance wasn’t clearly evident on the scoreboard till early in the second half when the girls stunned the Lady Eagles with two quick scores after leading, 1-0, at the break.

Junior midfielder Kendall Bates collected two goals for Melissa — and dribbled circles around defenders for much of the match — while junior forward Gillian Stopinski and senior forward Amanda Kocsis delivered a goal apiece. Sophomore goalkeeper Brittany Morgan recorded the shutout.

The Lady Cards will next face Stephenville’s Honeybees in the regional semifinals at the Birdville ISD Complex in Richland Hills on April 7. Win that, and Melissa will play again the next day with a trip to the state semifinals on the line.

“It started off a little rocky,” Bates said of Monday’s victory. “We were kind of slow. At halftime, we went in and kind of had an intense talk. We were like ‘OK, we need to pick this up. We should be doing a lot better.’ I think we just came out with a lot more intensity in the second half, and it really showed. … This is our third year straight to make it to the regional tournament, so we definitely know what we’re getting ourselves into. We’re not dubious, really, anymore.”

“I thought we were still dominant in the first half,” Melissa head coach Manuel Avila said. “We got slow … because of the way they were defending us, trying to defend deep, defend together. We went in at halftime and talked about simple changes, easy things. We didn’t want to change the game plan, we didn’t want to change what we were doing. We just needed to play faster.”

“We never stopped coming,” Avila added. “And we didn’t get complacent. We knew we had to take care of business. We weren’t going to do what we did last week, that was just stop playing and give up a couple of late ones.”

Stopinski opened the scoring eight minutes in with a left-to-right gem from about 15 yards out.

“(Kendall) laid it off to me, and I just brought it around the corner and hit it in the upper-right corner,” she said.

Ninety seconds into the second half, Kocsis put in a point-blank shot off a rebound in front of the Lady Eagles’ goal and Melissa led, 2-0. Then, with 35:12 remaining, Bates came right back with another goal, this one nearly straight-on from 20 yards out. At this point, Avila said, Diamond Hill-Jarvis was “shell-shocked.”

The Lady Eagles would have a breakaway chance thwarted by Morgan and see another shot go wide right without midway through the period. At the 11:25 mark, Bates, after dancing through more defenders on the far-right flank, sent a 25-yard rainbow toward the net that just got inside the far post for a 4-0 Lady Cards lead.

“I kind of dribbled through some people, I guess, and found myself open,” Bates said. “I wasn’t really sure if I was crossing it or shooting it. It just kind of happened,” she added with a laugh.

“I don’t know how that went in,” Avila said. “You could see it in the goalkeeper’s face, like ‘Ah, that’s over the goal. Oh, crap! Now I’m picking it up out of the net.’”

Avila highlighted the play of several other Lady Cards.

“To be honest, coming into the match, I wasn’t sure if (junior defender) Sarah Weideman was going to step on the field tonight. She took a pretty good bone bruise, got hurt Friday night against Alvarado and didn’t play most of the second half. … We got her braced up, taped up, and she looked good in warm-ups. I said, ‘Alright, go out there and give me everything you’ve got.’ She played the full 80 minutes and never missed a beat. Defensively, she was there for us and it really kind of gave us a boost to have her in that back line.”

“(Freshman defender) Cambree Potts came in and played some good minutes,” Avila added. “(Freshman midfielder) Genevieve Stopinski came in and played some good minutes. I didn’t feel like we missed anything with the subs coming on. (Freshman forward) Hanna Waters came on and played good minutes in that second half. I didn’t think, ‘Aw, man, now what are we going to do?’ It was like, ‘Hey, your turn. Let’s go.’ And that’s exactly what they did.”

The Lady Eagles almost had the match’s first goal six minutes in, but the shot was disallowed due to an off-sides call. Soon after that, Stopinski put Melissa up for good.

“It was a really big, combined team effort,” she said. “In my opinion it was probably one of the best games that we’ve played together. We were really connected and we worked together really well. … I thought they kept up really well. … They (the Lady Eagles) had speed and they knew how to stop the runs and see the play.”

So what’s the plan now?

“We’re going to go to state, hopefully,” Stopinski said. “That’s the plan.”