FINAL-LY! Lady Vikings Clear Hurdle To Reach State Soccer Finals
by CHRIS GOLTERMANN
PEACHTREE CITY — The game was soccer, no doubt. But it might as well have been a track meet.
And one foot over another, Northgate cleared the biggest hurdle its girls program has faced in its short history. A 2-1 overtime win in Tuesday's Class AAAAA state semifinals over two-time defending state champion McIntosh was easily the biggest win on a soccer field in school history.
But it also paved a path past an opponent from talent-rich Fayette County and into a title game for the first time. With only two seniors, Northgate equally made a statement toward staying here. Down to the final four minutes of regulation in a 1-0 deficit, freshman Lily Barron sent the visiting crowd into a frenzy when she floated a shot into the net from the edge of the 18-yard box to help send the game into overtime.
Less than three minutes later, Lady Viking junior Katie Mitchell hustled down left wing, eluded a defender and McIntosh senior keeper Katilin Deitrick following a three-player collision and found a way to cross a ball that caromed off Barron and Lady Chiefs defender into the back of the McIntosh net for the eventual game-winner.
"Absolutely unreal," said Northgate head coach Bryan Hicks."We tell our girls in that situation, sling it at the net and good things can happen. And you saw it did right there. The biggest thing we told them in overtime was no more corner kicks."
Just when it looked as if the Lady Vikings had to accept a moral victory over a playoff win, Northgate came through with two goals in six minutes of play to take a lead for good against a Lady Chiefs program that hadn't lost a state playoff game since 2010.
Northgate's David advances to play another Goliath in Whitewater on Saturday at 5 p.m. This year's GHSA championships will be split between stadiums at Kennesaw State in Cobb and the State University of West Georgia in Carrollton.
The Lady Vikings may as well be carrying the banner for Coweta soccer much like Americans did in Lake Placid in 1980. Finally, Northgate's time had come to taste a Final Four victory four years after their only other semifinal appearance against Whitewater ended with a loss.
Dominating the earliest minutes of play, McIntosh attempted a whopping 13 corner kicks over 80 minutes forcing Northgate keeper Mattea Lewis to come up big several times. She opened a scoreless second half by making a diving stop to her left in the 43rd minute to set up McIntosh's fourth corner.
The Lady Chiefs finally converted on No. 9 in the 68th when Hannah Hartman headed the ball past Lewis among a handful of white jerseys.
"They just made a perfect run," said Lewis of McIntosh's goal. Lewis, however, came up biggest on the 13th cross with the game tied 1-1. Struggling to get to a mass of players in front, she dropped down to stop a header at her feet, the ball resting at the goal line.
"Heart attack," said Lewis of the game. "It was right on the line. If it had moved any more it would have been a goal."
By the time the first five-minute overtime started, however, it was more adrenaline than fear pumping through Northgate's veins.
"We were pumped," said Mitchell. "It got that adrenaline going through us."
Play immediately entered McIntosh's end to begin the first overtime and stayed there through Mitchell's run down the left-wing. Fighting off a Lady Chiefs defender, the two collided with Deitrick and the ball trickled past toward the end line where the Northgate midfielder took a dribble before sending a ball through.
"It went off my foot and then the defender next to me and into the goal," said Barron, of the eventual game-winner which was also credited to her.
The ensuing celebrated brought McIntosh defenders to their knees in disbelief, before regrouping. From there, the Lady Chiefs pressed up top even further sending wave after wave toward the net as the clock slowly ticked away in the closing two minutes.
A clear by Northgate senior Hannah Murray. Tick, tick, tick. 1:23 to play.
A clear by Lady Viking freshman Cara Rhoad. Tick, tick, tick. 1:10 remaining.
A final carom off Barron near midfield kept it away a final time and as the horn sounded on the 2-1 win, the team engulfed itself in a ball of maroon jerseys before being rushed by Northgate's faithful as if they had just claimed McIntosh High as a fort.
"This is what we've been waiting for," Northgate coach Maurice Campbell, who admitted to losing his voice in the last of two five-minute overtime periods as Lady Viking defenders took turns clearing balls out of the zone with McIntosh pressing for a game-tying goal.
"We're a much different team than we were the first time we played them. In a lot of the games we've won, like the playoff in Augusta [against Lakeside-Evans] we've played from behind. I think that's helped us."
A roster shift between the midfield and back line has also worked in the Lady Vikings benefit. On Tuesday, it saw Ashley Keller, Haylie Verbanic and Brittany Deloach trying to keep McIntosh at bay, with Verbanic needing several slide tackles to keep junior striker Amanda Batholomew from pushing in off the right wing.
"We switched things and moved players around and it's worked for us," Mitchell added.
If not for a clear late in the game off a McIntosh rush on goal, Barron wouldn't have had a chance to tie the game. Trailing 1-0 in the closing minutes with McIntosh pinning the ball deep into Lady Vikings territory, Barron grabbed possession near midfield and worked the ball toward the right before changing direction.
The freshman cut across the middle of the box before sending a left-footed shot through two McIntosh defenders and over the reach of Deitrick with exactly 4:02 remaining to help send the game to overtime.
"It's the first time we're going to a state championship [game]," Barron said. "It's a huge accomplishment."