Even in the midst of an unbeaten season, Flowery Branch High girls soccer coach Anel Lilic speculated the rest of the state may have taken his team a little lightly.
He expects that to change after the Lady Falcons’ second-round playoff performance.
In a battle of top-10 squads, No. 1 seed Flowery Branch raced out to an early lead to claim a 5-2 win against second-seeded Riverwood on Tuesday, May 1, in Flowery Branch. The third-ranked Lady Falcons (20-0) clinched their second straight quarterfinal appearance behind a pair of goals from both freshman Larsyn Reid and junior Caroline Wysocki.
“I thought we controlled things most of the time,” Lilic said. “ … We hope we can play better moving forward, and we know we have some things we can do a bit better. But it was still a top-10 matchup, and I felt like we dominated most of it.”
Flowery Branch faces a quick turnaround with its quarterfinal match against either No. 1 seed Union Grove or third-seeded Warner Robins on Friday at a time to be determined.
The Lady Falcons will host no matter which team advances, due to a GHSA coin flip to determine home-field advantage in the quarterfinals for all spring sports.
Junior Madi Shewbert assisted both goals by Reid, who picked up an assist of her own on the game’s opening goal, a right-footed strike by freshman McKenzie Kent that set off a flurry of three Flowery Branch scores in the first 14 minutes.
It helped the Lady Falcons knock Riverwood (13-6) out of the playoffs for the second season in a row — last year’s Flowery Branch team eked out a 1-0 win in the first round en route to the program’s first-ever trip to the state semifinals.
This Lady Raiders squad looked like it would be an even tougher matchup.
Riverwood entered Tuesday’s game ranked seventh in Class 5A after crushing No. 3 seed Arabia Mountain, 10-0, in the opening round of the tournament. Yet Kent put the Lady Falcons ahead 1-0 just two and a half minutes into the contest, and Reid poked in an easy goal off Shewbert’s looping cross into the box less than five minutes later.
By the time Shewbert and Reid hooked up for another goal with 26 minutes, 45 seconds left to play in the first half, Lilic saw a Lady Raiders team that looked “shell-shocked.”
“Our theme all year has been to press and to come out with high intensity,” the first-year Falcons coach said. “So we pressed and got that first goal, and then the second one just came right after.”
Lilic made sure to credit Riverwood, which rebounded from the early onslaught and regained control over the next 20 minutes. The Lady Raiders earned two quick corner kicks in the 23rd minute, converting the second one into a goal on a header by Julia Sibert.
But with 33 seconds until halftime, Flowery Branch created the momentum it desperately needed.
Sophomore Ella Reilly booted a beautiful free kick behind the Riverwood back line and right in front of Wysocki, who took one touch before banking in a goal off the far post.
“That knocked the wind of their sails,” Lilic said. “They had gotten back into the game and were threatening. If that had happened to us, it would have been disheartening, so I’d imagine it was disheartening for them.”
The Lady Falcons stayed on the attack in the second half, finally putting the game away on Wysocki’s second goal with 12:45 to play. Once she received the ball about 25 yards from the net, Wysocki spun around her defender and whipped a strike off the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand into the top-right corner.
Kaitlyn Lauk scored for the Lady Raiders with 4.6 seconds remaining to bring the final tally to 5-2.
Despite the late goal, Lilic praised the play of his junior goalie Hannah Pimentel, who snuffed out multiple Riverwood chances as the Lady Raiders tried to rally.
Perhaps her best moment came with about 10 minutes left in the first half and her team ahead just 3-1. After making a diving save to stop a free kick by Lauk, Pimentel sprung back on her feet to save another shot off the rebound and keep her team ahead by a decent margin.
“Hannah is awesome. Any other team in the state would wish to have her,” Lilic said. “I’ve said before that she’s our safety net, and she allows us to play more brave and courageous. She claimed a lot of things in the air and was great for us tonight.
“It’s a shame she conceded two goals because there’s not much she could have done about them.”
Flowery Branch is hoping for a similar performance from Pimentel on Friday when it vies for the program’s second straight trip to the state semifinals.
After comfortably defeating a fellow top-10 team, the Lady Falcons anticipate the pressure to ramp up regardless of the opponent.
“With our schedule, there’s a chance the rest of the state took us lightly,” Lilic said. “Maybe that changes now.”