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Kesseler’s three goals propel Panthers to second round

It pays to take out a little insurance.

Mead’s Anna Kessler scored a pair of brilliant goals to put her Panthers up, 2-0, against Jackson in a first-round State 4A girls soccer playoff match Tuesday night at University High.

“A 2-0 lead is the least comfortable lead you can have,” Kessler said. “Once I got my second goal, I was absolutely determined to get a hat trick.”

When Kessler broke free behind the Jackson defense and tucked a shot underneath the sliding goalkeeper to give Mead a 3-1 lead with 13 minutes left to play, it appeared to be an insurance goal.

It turned out to be the winner in a 3-2 Panthers’ victory, sending Mead on to play the winner of today’s Union-Moses Lake game Saturday on the road – and gave coach Kevin Houston a sense of déjà vu.

Mead was in the same situation a year ago, hitting the road for a quarterfinal match.

“Last year we had to travel to Camas and we lost,” Houston said. “I know more about Moses Lake, certainly. But we learned from that game last year and we’re better prepared to go on a long road trip to play a game.

“This year we played more road games to help us prepare. We went to Seattle. We’re at a place this year where we’re better able to treat this as just another game on the road, wherever we have to play.”

The Panthers had only a sketchy scouting report on Jackson for the first-round match. The Timberwolves from Mill Creek boasted a 14-2-3 record, had lots of speed and a stout defense.

“When we started the game, Coach told us to test their defense,” Kessler explained. “He told us to dribble at them and see what happened. I was surprised that I was able to get around their defense as easily as I did.”

Just 10 minutes into the game, Kessler beat her defender, deked her way past the goalkeeper and buried a shot into an open net to give Mead a 1-0 lead.

Seven minutes later, Kessler did the same thing, only more impressively bypassing the goalkeeper, to make it 2-0.

In fact, Kessler blew past her defender on no less than a half-dozen chances.

And then the game tilted.

Jackson made some adjustments to their defense and Mead temporarily lost one of its key forwards, Kara Marbury. For the final 10 minutes of the first half, Jackson suddenly found itself playing in the Mead half of the field. And after halftime, the Timberwolves kept the pressure on.

After freshman Kailey Castro beat Mead goalkeeper Ashlyn Juul in the 55th minute, the Timberwolves saw an opening and pushed to get through it.

Kessler’s third goal re-established the two-goal lead.

“This was a good win for us,” Houston said. “I think playing Central Valley twice really prepared us well for this kind of a team.”