High School Soccer
Rivals meet in Class AAAAA rematch tonight at Northgate
by Doug Gorman
If Northgate's girls soccer team has any chance of playing for the Class AAAAA state title for the second straight season, they'll once again have to get past their closest rivals - McIntosh.
But this time around, Northgate has home-field advantage at Henry Seldon Field.
The Lady Vikings' program turned a corner en route a year ago in the 2013 semfinals at McIntosh.
Northgate needed two unanswered goals by then freshman Lily Barron to stun McIntosh 2-1 in overtime on its home field.
Last year's Northgate championship team was as much one primed to continue its success into this spring after graduating just two seniors.
But McIntosh regained a bit of bragging rights by pulling out a 1-0 victory late in the second half of this year's regular season meeting.
For the second consecutive year, three of the four semifinalists in Class AAAAA are out of Area 4, with top-seed Starr's Mill traveling to Pope in today's other Final Four girls contest.
Northgate handed Starr's Mill its only loss in 4-AAAAA play while McIntosh did the same to the Lady Vikings.
Northgate, however, managed to hold on to the No. 2 seed in 4-AAAAA while earning homefield advantage for tonight's semifinal by way of goal differential between the three schools.
Regardless of the scenario this time around, Northgate head coach Bryan Hicks knows the type of struggle his team is in for tonight for a 6 p.m. kickoff, after managing to get past Heritage-Conyers by way of penalty kicks in Saturday's state quarterfinal game in Rockdale County.
'We are just glad to be still playing,' Hicks said. 'It's your goal. It is what you work for. We know McIntosh is going to be quick. They know what can do, we know what they can do.'
One thing is for sure, neither Northgate (18-3) or McIntosh (17-2) lack for competition during the regular season while also playing top non-region games to close the year. Both dropped their last two games of the regular season before starting the playoffs.
The Lady Chiefs fell to Marist 6-0, and Starr's Mill 2-0, while the Lady Vikings lost to Villa Rica and Columbus by scores of 3-2.
Northgate enters with a No. 3 state-ranking just behind No. 2 McIntosh. But the Lady Vikings aren't shying away from the matchup.
'That's who we want to play' Barron said. 'We are looking forward to seeing them again.'
Both teams have put together solid campaigns thanks to stellar defense. The Lady Chiefs have shut out 14 teams including all three playoff opponents, beating Greenbrier and Northview 1-0 and earning a 4-0 win over Glynn Academy.
Northgate senior goaltender Mattea Lewis has equally led the Lady Vikings to 10 shutouts this season, including a pair of 4-0 victories over Houston and Harris County to open their playoff run.
Saturday's win in the Elite 8 wasn't nearly as one-sided.
After falling behind 1-0 early in the game against the Lady Patriots, Northgate kept its focus, benefited from a first-half goal from Katie Mitchell and then played stellar defense in the second half to send the game into overtime and eventually penalty kicks. Northgate dominated the penalty kick session getting goals from Cara Rhoad, Ashley Keller, Mitchell and Hayli Verbanic en route the win.
Momentum swung in the Lady Vikings favor when the Lady Patriots missed on their first attempt, shooting wide of the goal. It stayed there when Taylor DeLoach was moved into the goal and came up with one huge stop on Heritage's third attempt.
It was Northgate's first win by penalty kicks this year.
'It's hard to simulate it,' Hicks said. 'It's something you worry about, but we just stepped it up when we had to.'