McClay hat trick sinks G-Pittman

By Allen LaMountain

   GATLINBURG--Even a steady soaking rain couldn't slow down Elizabethton sophomore Samantha McClay, who tallied three first-half goals and the Lady Cyclones withstood an intense Gatlinburg-Pittman rally to take a 3-2 win on Tuesday night at Mill Park.
   The win sends 'Betsy into the regional final against the winner of today's Chuckey-Doak at University High match. The win also helped the Lady Cyclones keep a promise they made in a 'Meet the Cyclones' pre-season introduction.
   "The girls pointed to this game and they said they wanted this one to advance to the region finals," said EHS head coach Bill McClay. "This is the farthest that the girls soccer team has gotten...ever. We got back on our heels a little bit in the second half, trying to protect the lead instead of continuing to attack, but we had some kids step up. Maria (Francisco) had a good game in goal."
   Francisco may have been the defensive player of the game, not only for the 11 stops she made, but for the way she patrolled the goalbox for Betsy.
   Francisco was active between the pipes and attacked the Lady Highlanders each time they pressed the attack. Three times Francisco arrived at the ball a split second before a G-P player in the goalbox.
   "Coach (McClay) stressed that to me," said Francisco. "I feel that I play better in the tough games. I don't know how, but I get really hyped up to play important games."
   McClay got the Lady Cyclones on the scoreboard in the fifth minute off a direct kick from 25-yards out that sailed over the outstretched hands of G-P goalkeeper Kristen Gurskyj.
   Six minutes later McClay and Ashley Green worked quickly in the midfield to turn the attack on the Lady Highlanders, with Green sending a pass into the G-P goalbox to where McClay fired it home.
   The play began when Ashley Mottern blasted the ball out of the EHS end to Katie Presnell, who passed to Cassidy Hyatt. Hyatt then found Green at about the 20-yard line.
   The prettiest play of the night came in the 23rd minute when Green stole the ball in the center circle and sent a pass through three G-P defenders to the foot of McClay who made the Highlanders pay for their error and gave 'Betsy a three-nil lead.
   McClay had to fight off G-P fullback Danielle Booth the last 10 yards before getting the shot away.
   "Ashley sent it through and it took a bad bounce past a (G-P) defender," said McClay. "I just fired it at the far post and it went in. Ashley had been telling me to take it in as far as I could. It feels good to win this one, they knocked us out last year and we wanted to win bad."
   The Lady Highlanders weren't going to roll over however as Lauren Everhart pounced on a failed clearing pass just outside the EHS goalbox and dribbled in on Francisco.
   Everhart sent a shot low left that struck net at the 34-minute mark of the first half to give G-P a huge shot in the arm before the break.
   "She was our District Player of the Year," said G-P head coach Emily Weals. "(Everhart) is not going to give in or back down to anyone. We just fell too far behind and it took all our energy to try and get the game back to even. McClay is a very good player and even though we were prepared for her she still got her shots to go."
   The second half saw 'Betsy slip into a defensive mode -- though Coach McClay said it was not by design.
   "For a stretch of about 20-minutes in the second half we gave up the midfield almost entirely," he said. "Luckily the last line of defense and Maria were up to the task. I don't know why we lost the aggressiveness, but the footing wasn't good either so maybe that's why. I told the girls that they beat the elements as well as G-P."
   A late tally off a corner kick scrum in front by freshman Kelli Wilson made it a 3-2 match, but with 10 minutes left the Lady Cyclones came alive and began to press forward more, which made it even more difficult for the Lady Highlanders.
   "We outshot them and outplayed them really," said Weals. "But we just couldn't finish tonight. We had good runs and made some good shots, but not enough of them went into the net."