It was always so close, yet so far away in the end.
Having to step up and tighten up on the defensive side of the ball, the Lady Bulldogs did about all they could before falling to Jackson 1-0 in overtime in the District Semi-Finals on Monday night.
As attested by the eventual final score, this was a back-and-forth, defensive battle with both goalkeepers making significant efforts to keep their squads in this one. It was evident early that Kayla Hammonds would play a big role in the match.
The junior keeper started off the game saving multiple shots from Jackson attackers before Athens could get any real offensive attacks going.
“Kayla is a great keeper. She kept us in the game the whole game,” JT Schroer, the head coach of the Lady Bulldogs said after the match about Hammonds. “There was nothing she could do on that last one. They have a really high powered offense and our defense played really well all game but, one let down, one transition goal. It’s soccer, it’s how it is.”
It didn’t take particularly long for Athens to create some significant chances however. Quinn Murphy was able to open up two opportunistic shots for herself off of some great passes from her teammates. The sophomore’s first shot was saved but the second sailed wide of the keeper, just grazing by the right post.
The two standouts were big reasons as to why Athens was still in the thick of this one, but the overall defensive effort should be noted.
“The defense has played well all year. They have good communication and play well as a unit. We practice team defense and you don’t have to do it by yourself. I’m very proud of them.”
The second half brought along much of what it was in the first. Olivia Smart was able to break ahead on a through ball early after the second half whistle but that attempt went wide left.
Other than that, Athens weren’t able to create too many more significant chances and Hammonds and the defense were asked to step up once again, which they did.
The final opportunity, and maybe the best one Athens had all night, came with just over 10 minutes left in the contest. A through ball sent in down the right side of the pitch sent Murphy sprinting past the defenders with a three-on-one opportunity.
Before she could pass it off to another attacker, Mattie Walburn, the Jackson goalkeeper, came flying out of the net to break up the opportunity.
As the clock ticked down to zero, you could tell the impact fatigue was having on the players. After nearly every run or clear, you could spot players starting to hunch over and catch their breath. Nearly everyone on the field started to have to fight themselves and the opposing team too.
Athens were able to hold off long enough to send it to OT, but their luck ran out there.
With less than a minute remaining in the first OT period, a deflection into the Athens box found Abby Seimetz with nobody around her. The senior on Jackson didn’t get all of it on her attempt, slicing the ball off the side of her foot. It was enough though as it still found the back of the net, ending the match and Athens’ season.
“It was a great season. I started four years ago so the seniors were freshmen when I started. This is a special group,” Schroer said, reflecting on the season as a whole. “We scored a lot of goals and met a lot of the goals. It’s the first time we’ve had a 10 win season in eight or nine years probably. We did a lot of good things this season and I’m very proud of them, we just came up short.”
The loss ends the Lady Bulldogs season at 11-7, like coach said though it was a positive season overall given the recent history of the program. It’s not just that a season is over though, now is when you have to say goodbye to the people you’ve seen regularly for months on end now.
“I’m with these girls every day for five-six days a week and then all of a sudden we just have nothing. It’s hard, you get to know their personalities and I really do love them a lot. It’s hard, it’s really hard.”
Sports editor for the Athens Messenger, Eric Decker can be reached at email@example.com