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Manitou Springs junior Erica Sherwin (6) kicks the ball against St. Mary's Academy sophomore's Tatum Busch (10) and Maria Storch (11) in the first half at Manitou Springs High School in Manitou Springs, CO. on Thursday May 12, 2022. Manitou Springs won 7-2. (Laura Domingue/Special to the Gazette)

Erica Sherwin picked up a hat trick by the end of the first half and finished with four goals for Manitou Springs on Thursday.

By any measure, that’s a great game – the best of the junior’s high school career.

But the context in which it came during the eighth-seeded Mustangs’ 7-0 victory over No. 25 St. Mary’s Academy accentuates the performance even more.

Sherwin is a one-sport athlete, all-in on soccer year-round. But as a freshman she lost the season in its entirety to COVID-19. As a sophomore she was Manitou Springs’ leading scorer as it stormed through a shortened – again, COVID – regular-season with a 10-0 record by outscoring opponents by a staggering 82-1 margin.

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Then, as the No. 2 seed, they were upset in the first round 5-1 by Aspen.

So, for much of this group, and Sherwin, that was their lone playoff experience.

Until Thursday.

“I was a little nervous, but I was confident in our team,” Sherwin said.

She kicked the nerves to the side in the 14th minute as she streaked down the left side and rolled a shot just past the dive of St. Mary’s Academy (6-10) goalkeeper Ally O’Hara.

The next goal came nine minutes later.

The next 16 minutes after that.

Sherwin’s goals had the Mustangs (12-3-1) up 3-0 at halftime. She later added the team’s fifth goal in the second half.

“It’s so exhilarating to score a goal,” Sherwin said. “I think it’s so amazing to have your teammates support you when you do it. It was a great game and I was so excited.”

Coach Ben Mack has seen a lot of Sherwin’s game over the years, coaching her in high school and watching her in club as she is teammates on both teams with Mack’s daughter Madrid. The girls are also best friends. He’s been continually impressed.

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“For as small and tiny and skinny she is, Erica is a very physical player and plays with a tremendous amount of passion and just has a real hunger in front of goal,” Ben Mack said. “It’s one of those things you can’t really teach, that raw desire in front of the goal. She’s got that.”

Madrid Mack, Julia Mayne and Cassidy Kuzbeck all scored in the second half as Manitou Springs kept the attack going in a way it maybe wouldn’t have in the regular-season.

"It’s tough because you don’t want to take your foot off the gas pedal, you don’t want to take your teeth out of the opponent, but sometimes it’s hard to get it back going,” Ben Mack said. “In playoffs we really don’t have that issue because we’re both playoff teams and we’re going to play as hard as we can because our next game is really important and we’ve got to be primed and ready to do it.”

That next game? No. 9 Aspen at Manitou Springs on Saturday. The same Aspen (12-3-1) squad that ended the 2021 season for the Mustangs.

If this game was about playoff redemption. Sherwin knows the theme of this next one.

“We’re excited,” she said. “It’s our revenge game.”