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Durbin nets late game winner as Howell Central knocks off IWA for district crown

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O'FALLON, Mo. — Francis Howell Central freshman forward Cassie Durbin always felt she had the ability to make some noise on the varsity level.

Just not this season.

"I figured I'd be playing a lot by the time I was a sophomore," Durbin said.

Why wait?

Durbin scored in the 72nd minute Thursday to lift the Spartans to a 1-0 win over Incarnate Word Academy in the Class 4 District 3 girls soccer championship match at Fort Zumwalt North.

Howell Central (13-8-1) claimed its first soccer district crown since 2019, when it went on to finish fourth in the state in Class 4.

The Spartans won their fourth in a row and will face either Liberty (17-5-1) or St. Dominic (18-3) in a quarterfinal affair May 28.

Durbin spent much of this season on the junior varsity level before making her first varsity appearance May 9. She scored the team's lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Nerinx Hall and has been a vital cog coming off the bench ever since.

"To be in that position and to do what she did late in the game, I couldn't be more proud of her," Howell Central coach Eddie Mulholland said. "It's a long season and we wanted to make sure that she would be able to see some success as freshman."

Durbin has received more than just a little taste of varsity action. She scored the Spartans biggest goal of the season with 8 minutes and 51 seconds left in Thursday's contest.

"I had a feeling just watching her that she'd end up doing something special for us," said Howell Central senior goalie Mary Kate Neal, who recorded her fourth successive clean sheet. "Look what she did. It doesn't get more important than that."

Durbin broke free along the right wing and took a pinpoint pass from junior Adelaide Green, who had intercepted a clearing attempt from IWA goalie Samantha Bergjans. Durbin then blasted a drive off the left goal post from a tough angle.

"It made me nervous when it hit the post," Durbin said. "But it went in and that's all that matters."

Howell Central senior midfielder Jordyn Bailey, who was a member of the final four team as a freshman, was impressed with Durbin's poise under pressure.

"She works hard, she hustles, she puts everything she has into the game," Bailey said. "It's amazing seeing all the things she's done since she was pulled up. Now, she just won us the game."

Durbin's second tally of the year broke open a close match that seemed slightly tilted in favor of the Red Knights (8-11) throughout most of the evening.

Neal made several fine saves in the opening half, including an eye-popping stop on a shot by Madelyn Muhr from close range.

Howell Central began to pick up the pace in the second half. Freshman Riley Henderson and junior Keeley Thorpe created the biggest chances.

"We've been playing really good soccer for about two months now," Mulholland said.

The Spartans lost four of their first six matches before the light bulb went on with a trio of shutout wins over Holt, Timberland and Fort Zumwalt West.

Now, they have lost just four times in their last 16 contests and appear to be clicking on all cylinders.

"We just wanted to prove that we could do it, that we could be better than what people thought we were," Neal said. "(IWA) came out hard and we were ready."

The Red Knights lost five of their final seven matches and simply could not finish against the technically sound Spartans.

"I don't think we could have asked any more from our girls," IWA coach Alex Baer said. "They settled into the game and were able to find some moments of possession. But unfortunately, our chances just didn't go in the back of the net."

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