Lady Cyclones fall shy vs. UH

Photo by Kristen Luther
ElizabethtonÕs Chassie Hodge takes aim on the ball.

By Wes Holtsclaw
JOHNSON CITY -- After losing their previous two outings to the University High Lady Bucs, the Elizabethton Lady Cyclone soccer team entered their District 1-A/AA Championship match with a mindset to win.
In a match filled with questionable calls from the officiating staff, the Lady Cyclones missed several key opportunities, while University High played their aggressive style behind a pair of key goals in a 2-1 victory at Winged Deer Park late Thursday afternoon.
"They played hard, they really wanted it and they just came up a little short," said Elizabethton coach Bill McClay. "We're still playing and we've got to put it behind us. Especially the seniors -- they're a little bummed out right now."
An early goal from Lady Buccaneer Torey Crane set the pace for University High and gave the team momentum throughout the rest of their match.
"I think it really helped us a lot," said University High coach Valerie Lowe. "It gave us momentum and kept us in the right mindset. I think we really wanted this game. Playing Elizabethton is always, for both teams, a big rivalry and it's very emotional and well-fought from both sides."
The Lady Cyclones had solid defense from Farrah Fritz and freshman goal keeper Sofia Murillo during the early parts of the match.
Murillo kept the Lady Bucs at bay several times, but a defensive rally led to a high kick, which was missed by Lady Cyclone Abbie Jenkins and allowed University High's Crane to come around and slice around with a goal at the seven-minute mark.
Elizabethton had trouble with an absence of hand-ball calls and aggressive defense towards junior Samantha McClay, who was forced to the ground almost every time she made an attempt.
"She got hit literally each time she touched the ball," Coach McClay said. "She was played very physically tonight."
As the Lady Cyclones' troubles entered the second half, the squad stepped up its defense with Leslie Blowers and Katie Presnell paced drives down the field.
But the Lady Bucs took the initiative again when Foster beat out two Elizabethton defenders and crossed it to sophomore Yvette Basalone, who made the big play by putting it in for a 2-0 lead at the 52-minute mark.
"It was a really nice cross and I was lucky to be in position to score," Basalone said. "Our coach told us to feel like we needed to win the game and we did, we played really hard, we played as a team."
Elizabethton never gave up as McClay and Presnell made valiant efforts inside goal. But like much of the night, McClay went in for a goal when she was tackled from behind.
It gave her a free kick, which she blasted past University High goalkeeper Elizabeth Burke to close the gap at 2-1.
The Lady Cyclones had other chances as the time wound down, but they just couldn't close the deal.
"We had several good chances in the box with shots, we just didn't hit them," McClay added. "Even in the second half, there was a run of 10 to 15 minutes where we had the ball down in their end."
It was a disappointing evening for the Lady Cyclones, but they still have at least one more outing when they face the winner of the Gatlinburg-Pittman/Pigeon Forge match on the road Tuesday.
"This is the way the postseason has been for us the last few years," said Coach McClay. "They thought we had a real decent chance to come in and win this tonight and they really wanted it.
"But we're not done, we can't really dwell on this too much because if we win next Tuesday, we're in until the sectionals. We need to win that came and maybe we can come back in and win the regional."
ELIZABETHTON NOTES: At the end of the regular season, Samantha McClay led Northeast Tennessee's A-AA and AAA players in scoring. Her 26 goals and 6 assists for 58 points was tops, while teammate Presnell was 13th in the area with her 15 total points.
Sophia Murillo ranked third in goalkeeping, giving up just 1.39 goals per game throughout the entire season.