The Athens Drive girls’ soccer team felt right at home as their N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoff contest entered into overtime Tuesday night at Clayton, the No. 1 seed.
Despite the Comets sending the game into the extra periods on a late goal by Emery Biggs, the No. 24-seeded Jaguars seized the momentum early and added a pair of goals for the 3-1 victory that sent Athens Drive into the fourth round of the playoffs.
Rachel Snyder, the team’s leading goal-scorer, ran onto the end of a ball near the right edge of the box and one-timed a shot that looped over Clayton goalkeeper Logan Haag inside the far post to regain the lead.
“I’ve had that kind of ball played down the field to me a lot where I can hit it one time over the goalie,” Snyder said. “My teammates do a really great job at playing me those balls. It was really exciting to get that goal.”
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In the second extra session, Robin Gallagher raced into the box on a corner kick and, as the loose ball ended up coming her way, she deflected it into the goal for the clincher.
It was the fifth overtime game this season for Athens Drive (14-7-3), which finished sixth in the Southwest Wake Athletic 4A, and it was the second overtime win in the playoffs as the Jaguars netted two goals in overtime to topple Millbrook in the opening round.
“The whole year, they have never quit on anything,” Athens Drive coach Travis Seese said. “It’s amazing because we went to overtime so many times you would think they were not going to give the effort.
“Every time we went to overtime this year, they kept fighting and kept fighting. It showed tonight – just their work ethic and ability to play together, it’s been there all year long.”
The fight was there for the Comets (22-2), too, but conditions were made more difficult when Clayton conceded the opening goal less than four minutes in when Snyder slid a diagonal through ball behind the middle of the Clayton defense, allowing freshman Bethel Belayneh to run onto it and direct into the goal.
“We came out a little flat, and although we’ve had that problem in the past, it took us longer to get going,” Clayton coach Brian Stevens said. “The girls got nervous, and we got away from our game plan and therefore, we made it more difficult to get back in the game.”
Despite forcing Jaguars goalie Mary Grace Bunch into making a pair of tough saves, first on a Holland Mills strike early and then another powerful knuckler from Janelle Reid during the second half, the Comets had a tough time finding a way to test her from close range.
Then, during the 73rd minute after a great individual effort from Mills was awarded with a corner kick, Kendall Gillespy’s ball to the far post met a streaking Emery Biggs, who headed the ball down and in to knot the score.
“We got the goal, the momentum was in our way,” Stevens said. “A couple things didn’t fall our way, and they got in behind us and popped that second goal.
“But it’s been a Cinderella season. (It’s been) a great team, great girls, great attitude, they bought into my game plan all season long. … I just couldn’t ask for more.”
Seven Clayton seniors – Everett Biggs, Lauren Daniels, Nicole Guerrero, Logan Haag, Logan Jancuska, Lillie Uzzle and Kaylee Wilson – leave the program in good hands with a bunch of talent left but also with the unenviable task of replacing the heart and soul that helped the Comets to their most successful season to date.
Athens Drive will take on either Apex or Leesville Road in the fourth round as one of only eight teams remaining in the running for the NCHSAA 4A title.