Dakota Ridge senior Bailey Pignatore has been at the right place at the right time all season for the Eagles’ girls soccer team.
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In her first season playing high school soccer due to COVID canceling the 2020 season and then a pair of ACL knee surgeries forcing her to miss her sophomore and junior campaigns, Pignatore made the most of her lone season on the pitch.
It concluded May 23 with the senior having two arms around the Class 4A girls soccer state trophy after the No. 2-seeded Dakota Ridge Eagles shutout top-seeded Lutheran 2-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“I never thought this would come,” Pignatore said with the state trophy in hand. “I knew we had a chance to go far at state with the team we had, but I never thought we would win a state title.”
Pignatore sealed the victory with a goal in the 47th minute to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead. Freshman Kaylie Sheehan sent in a corner kick that senior Hannah Arnold redirected to Pignatore, who used her head to get the ball past Lutheran junior goalie Bissett Bussey and into the back of the net.
“That was the first header goal of my entire life,” Pignatore said of her 18th goal of the season. “It was amazing to happen in the state championship. I’m just so excited about everything.”
Lutheran (18-2 record) fell behind early when a back pass to Bussey rolled under her foot and into the goal resulting in an own goal in the 2nd minute of the game.
“It was nice to get the second goal because I didn’t want this win to be gifted,” Dakota Ridge coach John Cassidy said after leading the Eagles to a remarkable 18-1 record. “Lutheran played great. Their play against us was fantastic. Sometimes it just doesn’t go in. It’s that simple.”
Lutheran hadn’t give up a goal during its postseason run. The Lions had four shutout playoff victories to go along 10 regular-season shutout wins. Lutheran had only given up six goals in 19 games this season before allowing a pair of goals in the championship game.
Dakota Ridge senior goalie Kassidy Spencer and junior sweeper Jordan Whiteaker led the Eagles’ defense that keep the Lions at bay. Lutheran put heavy pressure on the Eagles in the final 10 minute of the first half, but couldn’t get anything past Spencer.
“I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game for my team,” Spencer said after the Eagles recored their third shutout victory of the postseason. “They have my back and I have their’s.”
It has been awhile since Dakota Ridge was a state contender on the soccer pitch. The Eagles won the 5A state championship 20 years ago in 2003. Dakota Ridge defeated Jeffco rival Green Mountain 1-0.
The Eagles’ last appearance in a title game was in 2011, a 3-1 loss to Mountain Vista. That state runner-up finish a dozen years ago was actually the last time Dakota Ridge finished the season with a winning record.
“After the first practice I came home and said this is a special team,” Cassidy said. “They provided it every step of the way.”
Cassidy gave a lot of credit to Whiteaker for encouraging a large number of club soccer girls to play this season for Dakota Ridge.
“Jordan Whiteaker is the one that got all the girls out to play,” Cassidy said. “As a freshman she said she wanted to win. I told her to go get them. She brought them out.”
Whiteaker has already verbally committed to Texas Christian University and her plan right now is to graduate a semester early next school year and enroll at TCU for the Spring 2024 semester. That would mean Tuesday would be the final game for the 4A Jeffco League MVP playing for Dakota Ridge.
If Tuesday’s state championship victory was the final high school game for Whiteaker, she goes out on top.
“The closeness of our team and the talent that we have,” Whiteaker said of the reasons for the turnaround to a state championship. “We had a bunch of new
players that carried our team. We were all so close this year because how much we connected at school and outside of school.”
It Lutheran’s first trip to the state championship game. The Lions had been a title contender in Class 3A over the past two season. Lutheran made the semifinals in 2022 and quarterfinals in 2021 of the 3A state tournament before making the jump up to 4A this season.
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