With a crudely bandaged cut above his right eye and his team trailing 1-0 at halftime, Grace King center back Almedin Tursunovic had one message for the Fighting Irish.
“Play our game.”
And with his team’s back against the wall and its feet still shaky from playing on the unfamiliar artificial turf, Tursunovic orchestrated a season-saving, second-half comeback on the road Thursday night against No. 7 seed Denham Springs, scoring two goals on the way to a 3-1 win for the No. 10 Irish.
“I honestly feel like the injury to me kind of hyped me up and hyped the team up,” Tursunovic said of Grace King’s mentality coming out for the second half. “We’re a family, and we have to stick together. What one person does, the other person does, and that helped us.”
Tursunovic came out firing in the second half, tying the game in the 49th minute when he made a run onto a free kick played into the box by sophomore Ozzie Vega, then Tursunovic put it past Denham Springs goalkeeper Tyler Medina.
The Irish’s team captain scored again with the game all but finished in stoppage time when he put a head on another free kick.
The scores are uncommon for a defender to make, but Tursunovic took advantage of Grace King’s (18-5-2) strong offensive attack throughout. The Irish outshot Denham Springs 18-4, including 9-2 in shots on frame.
Junior striker Carlos Borjas put in a rebound from Marcelo Carias’ shot in the 55th minute for what later proved to be the game-winner.
“In the second half, I just told the kids, ‘You have 40 minutes for your last game. Do you want it to be your last game, or do you want to win?’ ” said Grace King coach Raul Hernandez. “They came back and showed up with three goals.”
Tursunovic also was a major factor in Denham Springs’ (17-8-5) lack of offense during the game as the Irish concentrated their efforts on shutting down Denham Springs seniors Camden Hilliard and Cade Murry.
Hilliard finished his high school career three goals shy of 100.
The Yellow Jackets’ only goal came in the 17th minute when Andrew Finley chipped the defense on a free kick from 30 yards out into the path of a sprinting Cameron Hamby.
“I think (Hilliard) would give those 97 goals up to make it to the next round,” Denham Springs coach Chris Thorne said. “That hurts more than the 100 goals. You’d give up every stat you have to play one more game.”
Grace King moves on to play Mandeville in the quarterfinals.