Prep Soccer: Lady Cougars upended by Mill Creek
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Soccer, by nature, is a game that can be decided by the tiniest of margins on paper.
Newnan’s 3-0 loss to Mill Creek on Wednesday in a matchup between two evenly matched teams with near identical records, the measure of difference on the field couldn’t have been more than a few footsteps.
On a frustrating evening where the conditions at Drake Stadium following a day’s worth of steady rain played tricks on them at times, Newnan struggled to find a way to match Mill Creek’s offensive output.
“There’s a reason why they’re a state ranked team,” said Newnan head coach Frankey Henderson. “But I thought there were times that our girls outplayed them. The breaks just didn’t go our way.”
The Lady Cougars clanged a ball off the crossbar off the left foot of senior Kate Lawrence late in the first half, but went to halftime down two goals. In the final 20 minutes, senior Grace Gresham served another strike toward the corner of the Lady Hawks net that was gobble up with a diving stop from Mill Creek keeper Rachel Allred.
“She was fantastic for them,” Henderson said.
(To view or purchase photos from this game, please visit http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Sports / Soccer for the photo gallery.)
In the second round of the state tournament, however, it was still too big a difference for Newnan to overcome while ending its 2012 season with a respectable 13-4-2 record. Road-tested Mill Creek (14-4-1), which entered Wednesday having played eight of its last nine games away from home, struck first despite been pressured by the Lady Cougars.
Mill Creek, which finished as the No. 4 seed in Region 7-AAAAA despite its state ranking, will play Harrison, which defeated Woodstock in penalty kicks.
While the Drake Stadium turf absorbed the brunt of Wednesday’s weather, with only muddy brown patches and a couple tiny puddles providing visible evidence of the rain, it made touches frustrating at times. The ball skipped across on hard, long passes and stopped short during others as players tried to finesse the ball to a nearby teammate.
Mill Creek held a two-goal lead through most of 80 minutes, managing a late tally from Lauren Tanner in the final 20 minutes to put the game out of reach. Only moments earlier, Gresham had sent her ball towards the Lady Hawks standout keeper and came up empty.
It followed a similar sequence from the first half in a one-goal game. Trailing 1-0, Lady Cougar senior striker Katelyn Roberson got a half-step ahead of her defender and fell inside the box as the two players got tangled up in each other’s cleats. Minutes later, Mill Creek put together an offensive push of its own that led to a Newnan foul just outside the 18.
The ensuing free kick by Mill Creek midfielder Nicole Ruggieri was punched just over Newnan’s wall of defenders and hamstrung junior keeper Rebecca Whitlock as she attempted to punch the ball over the crossbar at the last second.
“She said she had a hard time finding it in the sun until it was right on her,” Henderson said. “It didn’t matter if it was 1-0 or 2-0 and even 3-0, our girls were still fighting them for the ball.”
Newnan loses seven seniors to graduation, all of whom contributed with key minutes during a second-place finish in Region 2-AAAAA. The Lady Cougars entered Wednesday having allowed eight goals in 18 games.
“I thought our defense was great the whole season, really,” Henderson said. “The games we struggled in, teams scored on us on set plays. It’s not that we didn’t defend well. The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”