Lady Cyclones get past North

Photo By Rick Harris
Maria Francisco fires a shot on North goalkeeper Kristen Hughes.

By Ivan Sanders
It was a new soccer season at a rain-drenched Brown-Childress Stadium Tuesday evening as the Lady Cyclones of Elizabethton played host to the visiting Sullivan North Lady Raiders in the district semifinals.
The winner of the game guaranteed themselves a slot in the championship game opposite either University High or Sullivan Central and an automatic berth in the regional.
Elizabethton used two first half goals and an aggressive defense in the second stanza to eliminate the Lady Raiders with a hard-fought 2-1 win over a much-improved North team in a brisk wind.
"They always say a 2-0 lead in soccer is dangerous," said Lady Cyclone coach Bill McClay. "We got complacent and they took the ball at midfield for a break-away to cut the lead to 2-1 in the first half. Our defense really played well in the second half to shut them down."
After starting as frigidly as the evening air, the Lady Cyclones finally broke the ice 13 minutes into the game, as senior Cassidy Hyatt netted the first score on a deflected shot by North goalie Kristen Hughes on an attempted score by Samantha McClay.
EHS found the net two and a half minutes later at the 15:30 mark when senior Farrah Fritz collected her second goal of the season after McClay sent a corner kick toward the goal. Fritz's shot glanced off Jessica Brown and into the North goal for the 2-0 Lady Cyclone advantage.
"The ball came to me and I had my back turned to the goal," said Fritz in recounting the score. "I turned and kicked the ball and it bounced off the chest of the North player (Brown) and into the net."
North responded late in the half with Crystal Newland taking the ball and dribbling down the field just ahead of the Lady Cyclone defenders to send a goal in from 25-yards out. With the score, the Lady Raiders managed to slice the lead in half at 2-1 with seven minutes remaining in the half.
Elizabethton had several shots late in the half that went just barely awry, as Sam McClay had three quality shots on goal that were either solidly deflected by the goalie or hit the top of the crossbar. It was a quality performance by goalie Hughes that kept her team within striking distance.
Said Coach McClay: "The goalie from North did an excellent job against us tonight. We had some really decent shots and could have been up by more, but she did a great job."
It was possibly the first game all season that the Lady Cyclone scoring phenom McClay hasn't scored a goal.
"This game was exactly what we needed because it shows that we are a balanced team that will be hard to defend with other players that can score and win the game for us," said Coach McClay. "They mark Sam tightly every game, so it's important others can get the job done."
The second half was like a well-played chess game, as hard marks and a stalwart defensive performance by the Lady Cyclones kept the Lady Raiders in check and preserved the slim one-point margin to secure the berth in the championship game.
Leslie Blowers, Abbie Jenkins, Brie Gouge, Maria Francisco, Lourean Hughes, Fritz, Katie Presnell and Ashley Green kept the heat turned up on the Lady Raiders and smothered any hopes North had of evening the score.
Goalie Sophia Murillo continued to play solidly for McClay as she was able to make a great defensive stop on a North drive late in the second half to keep the Lady Cyclones on top.
After the game, it was discovered that the Lady Cyclones would get a third shot at the University High Lady Bucs after UH defeated Central 3-1.
It is a contest that the younger McClay is poised for.
"If they are worried about one player, they will be unprepared for us," said Sam McClay. "Any one of us can step up and score. It will be exciting because we are such big rivals."
For the elder McClay, it is simply a desire to be able to win that elusive district title and play at home instead of traveling to face either Gatlinburg-Pittman or Chuckey-Doak.
"We definitely want to win because we have been the district runner-up two years in a row," said McClay. "Playing at home gives us a better advantage because it is larger than the other two fields we would have to play on."
The game between EHS and UH will be on Thursday at a time and field to be determined. The STAR will make that information available in tomorrow's sports section after confirming the specifics with Elizabethton High School A.D. Larry Alderson today.