High School Soccer
Lady Vikings return to semifinals after win in PKs
by Doug Gorman
CONYERS — Before they got to “The Ball,” Northgate’s girls soccer team had to make sure they didn’t get kicked out of the other big dance on Saturday.
With plenty of reasons to be distracted by an early morning state playoff game on prom night, the Lady Vikings managed to rise to the occasion, scoring a tying goal in the first half and then capitalizing on penalty kicks to defeat host Heritage 2-1 in the GHSA Class AAAAA State Quarterfinals.
“It is really special to get this win on the same day we have our prom,” Northgate sophomore Lily Barron said. “We are just glad we get to keep playing.”
Despite a slow start, the Lady Vikings are now just two wins away from potentially repeating as state champions.
Either way, Northgate’s program back in the Class AAAAA Final Four for the second consecutive year — and as an added bonus — will host a semifinal game at Henry Seldon Field on Wednesday.
Improving to 18-3-0 overall, the Lady Vikings will host the winner of Saturday’s late game between Area 4-AAAAA rival McIntosh and Northview, the No. 2 seed out of Region 7-AAAAA.
Getting there was no easy task on Saturday in a game that played much to the teams’ reputations on paper. Northgate entered the game ranked third in the most recent Class AAAAA state poll, while Heritage (15-5) was ranked ninth.
A Lady Vikings team that had posted 10 shutouts over its first 20 games, gave up its first goal since April 21 just two minutes into the state quarterfinal on a rare breakdown by Northgate’s stellar defense.
Heritage’s Faith Shelton worked her way past the Lady Vikings back line, stayed onsides, and broke inside the box alone for an easy goal and a 1-0 lead.
It held up until the 30th minute when Northgate junior Katie Mitchell scored off a free kick from just outside the box to tie the game a 1-1.
“It was really crucial to get the tying goal in the first half,” Northgate head coach Bryan Hicks said. “I think we played really well in the second half. We just missed on a few shots.”
After Mitchell’s game-tying shot, both lineups were held scoreless for the next hour of play, capped off by two five-minute overtimes — sending the contest to penalty kicks.
In a strategic move, Hicks swapped starting keeper Mattea Lewis for teammate Taylor DeLoach in goal.
Lewis made at least 10 saves, the majority in the second half to keep Heritage from adding to its side of the scoreboard. The biggest came in the 66th minute when Shelton again got past the Lady Vikings defense for a shot that hit the post before firing a rebound that was hauled in by Northgate’s senior goalkeeper.
But a switch in goalies prior to penalty kicks that seemed a bit bizarre to the casual observer, paid off handsomely for Hicks.
“I told her, all she had to do is get one save and we would probably win the game,” he said of DeLoach.
She got it, and in addition to an opening miss by Mady Carter, Heritage’s goalie, after Northgate’s Cara Rhoad gave Northgate a 1-0 advantage in kicks, the Lady Vikings fed off the momentum.
“That was big,” Hicks said. “It helped us relax.”
Northgate’s four kickers — Rhoad, Ashley Keller, Mitchell and Hayli Verbanic — ach connected in succession, with Verbanic clinching the victory on the final attempt.
DeLoach’s stop came just after Mitchell put Northgate ahead 3-1.
“I’m just really excited and happy,” DeLoach said. “We just never give up. That’s the way we have always been.”
Despite falling behind early, the Lady Vikings didn’t let Heritage’s quick goal stop them from dominating possession and outshooting Heritage 10-3 in the opening 40 minutes.
Northgate opened the second half with the same intensity, resulting in three quick shots on Heritage’s goal including a pair by Reece Weaver in the first 10 minutes.
Both of the Lady Vikings corner kicks came in the second half, but the Lady Vikings were unable to capitalize.
Barron, meanwhile, had the Lady Vikings’ best scoring chance in the first overtime and also got off a shot in the second five-minute period. Rhoad passed the ball twice to Reece Weaver in the second overtime period for another scoring chance.
Saturday’s victory was Northgate’s first of the season to be decided by penalty kicks, but Hicks says his team is always prepared if a game has to be decided that way.
“We obviously practice it,” Hicks said. We practice with Taylor and other people just in case the situation comes up. It’s hard to simulate a game, but we were able to finish them off today.”
Lady Vikings 2,
Lady Patriots 1,
NORTHGATE 1 0 0 0 (4) — 2
HERITAGE 1 0 0 0 (2)— 1
Goals: Heritage — Shelton (2:00). Northgate—Katie Mitchell (30:00)
Penalty Kick Goals —Northgate: Cara Rhoad, Ashley Keller, Katie Mitchell, Hayli Verbanic. HERITAGE—Kaley Wells, Ray Brown.
Goalies: Northgate —Mattea Lewis, Taylor DeLoach (PKs); Heritage —Mady Carter.