The Apalachee girls soccer team got all it could handle on the road Thursday from an inspired Winder-Barrow team that has had a disappointing season.
But the Lady Wildcats did enough to prevail, rallying past the Lady Bulldoggs, 2-1, and locking up a state playoff berth.
“They’ve usually played us tough in the past and they came to this game much improved from their previous games in the season,” Apalachee co-head coach Paul Thornton said of Winder-Barrow, who the Lady Wildcats routed 8-0 on March 15. “They played with energy, pride and passion. That was excellent stuff from them, and we struggled to deal with it all night. We were fortunate to get a couple goals in there.”
Winder-Barrow (1-13-1, 0-10 GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA) got on the board first Thursday when senior Sophia Kay, a Truett McConnell signee, scored with 25:30 left in the first half. Kay’s goal snapped a six-match scoreless streak dating back to March 12.
From there, Apalachee (6-8-1, 5-5) dominated the offensive possession but had trouble finishing, missing several golden opportunities, thanks in part to a couple of big saves from Winder-Barrow goalkeeper Erin Dinh.
The Lady Wildcats finally evened the match with 12:18 to go in the half when the speedy Emily Hale broke through Winder-Barrow’s back line and drilled a shot past Dinh. Apalachee had three more shots on goal the remainder of the half but couldn’t put one in.
But the Lady Wildcats got the eventual winner with 36:49 left to play when Erin Allen took a throw-in from Taylor Salvaggio and knocked it in.
The Lady Bulldoggs had one more key opportunity to tie it with 16:18 left, but Apalachee keeper Sarah Currey came up with a huge save to preserve the lead. Currey, the team’s leading scorer, has had to move into the net following a season-ending injury to Nancy Romero.
“That hurts but Sarah is really our best option back there right now,” said Thornton, whose team will likely be the No. 3 seed in the region for the state playoffs, barring a Habersham Central upset of region champ Dacula this Friday. In that case, Apalachee would drop back to No. 4
The Lady Wildcats and Lady Raiders split a pair of regular-season matches, but Apalachee has a one-goal differential advantage for the tiebreaker. Lanier will be seeded No. 2.
“We felt like a couple weeks ago we were trending up, but we had some really key injuries at an inopportune time,” Thornton said. “I feel like Dacula really was the best team again, but it’s a little disappointing we couldn’t grab that second spot.”
Apalachee wrapped up its regular season Tuesday at home with a non-region contest against Morgan County and will then have a two-week layoff until the state playoffs begin April 26. The Lady Wildcats will likely have to travel to Newnan to take on Northgate, the No. 2 seed from Region 5, in the first round. If they finish fourth, they would travel to Alexander High School.
“It’s going to be a tough matchup in the first round, either way,” Thornton said. “We have to finish on a higher percentage of our chances. I think you saw that in the first half (Thursday). We had several chances to put this game away and couldn’t do it. We’ve got to find someone who’s super-confident to put the ball in the back of the net consistently.”
Winder-Barrow was scheduled to travel to North Oconee on Tuesday and visit Walnut Grove on Wednesday. The Lady Bulldoggs will conclude their season April 18 when they host Eastside.