For the first 30 minutes of Friday’s Class 5A state quarterfinal match, frustration was the overriding emotion for the Flowery Branch High girls soccer team.
By the time the final whistle sounded, elation had taken over.
The Lady Falcons overcame a bumpy start to secure a 3-1 win against fellow No. 1 seed Union Grove on May 4 in Flowery Branch. With the win, third-ranked Flowery Branch (21-0) booked a return to the state semifinals after making the program’s first-ever appearance a year ago.
“We’re excited about it, and I’m super proud of (the players),” first-year Lady Falcons coach Anel Lilic said. “They’ve been a pleasure to coach this season. I couldn’t dream it up, having my first season go 21-0 and making the final four. We have a wealth of talented girls who have made my job easier.”
That talent will be put to the test in the semifinals against top-ranked McIntosh, which defeated Carrollton, 3-0, in the quarterfinals.
Flowery Branch will visit Peachtree City for that match at a time to be determined Tuesday. McIntosh was granted the right to host by a GHSA coinflip that assigned home-field advantage to the top half of the bracket for games between teams with similar seeds.
Seeding didn’t appear to matter much in Friday’s quarterfinal, which Flowery Branch thoroughly dominated despite winning by just two goals.
The Lady Falcons outshot Union Grove, 28-9, putting 15 shots on goal to the Lady Wolverines’ three. They also earned eight corner kicks while conceding only one, but Lilic’s squad still spent almost the entire first half searching for a breakthrough goal.
“We missed some chances,” Lilic said. “Playing games on Tuesday then Friday, it’s hard to come back out and expect the same energy and performance. We should have and could have put the game away in the first 20 minutes.”
Indeed, Flowery Branch amassed eight shots (three on goal) and four corner kicks by the midway point of the first half. Yet the Lady Falcons continued to come away empty-handed until junior Caroline Wysocki broke the scoreless tie with 8 minutes, 29 seconds until intermission.
After wrangling a pass from freshman teammate Larsyn Reid, Wysocki outran her defender down the left side and rocketed a right-footed shot into the net.
A minute and a half later, Flowery Branch freshman McKenzie Kent scored on a close-range deflection to put her team ahead 2-0.
“We had been creating chances, and we’ve had games like this before where you just have to believe you’re going to get the ball in,” Lilic said. “We’re a young team, and the elite eight is a bigger stage. I think there were some nerves for us.”
The Lady Wolverines (16-5), who entered the game having won 12 straight, mustered a few second-half threats while counterattacking. But their two best chances, though saved by Lady Falcons junior goalie Hannah Pimentel, were both nullified by offsides infractions.
Reid, meanwhile, gave the Lady Falcons a 3-0 lead when she buried an easy deflection with 16:30 to play.
Union Grove scored its lone goal four minutes later when Faith Phillips made a run down the right flank and fired a strike into the opposite pocket of the net. Morgan Oliver nearly notched another Lady Wolverines goal with 7:30 remaining, but her attempt clanked off the right post.
In the final three minutes, Flowery Branch earned an 18-yard free kick and a penalty kick but couldn’t convert either.
Now the Lady Falcons turn their attention toward McIntosh, which handed them a 5-2 loss in last year’s semifinal round en route to its second straight state championship. The Lady Chiefs have won three of the last four Class 5A titles and 11 overall.
“McIntosh is a team that has been there and knows what it feels like,” Lilic said. “I expect they’ll play us straight up.”