The Flowery Branch High girls soccer team surrendered its first goal in more than 200 minutes of play Tuesday, April 24, though a more important streak stayed intact as Region 8-5A’s top playoff seed cruised into the second round of the state tournament.
Freshman Larsyn Reid notched a hat trick and sophomore Anna Grady, who missed the majority of last year’s playoffs due to injury, added two goals of her own as the unbeaten Lady Falcons defeated No. 4 seed Kell, 8-2, for their 19th-consecutive victory this season.
Madi Shewbert, freshman McKenzie Kent and Glorismel Chavez also found the back of the net for the Lady Falcons, who with a predominantly youthful cast have now reached the second round in back-to-back seasons.
The standards set by Flowery Branch coach Anel Lilic before the season continue to fuel a program coming off a first-ever state semifinal berth.
“It’s easy for a coach to set something, like say, ‘Yeah, you are very good,’ and then for (the players) to say ‘yes,’” Lilic said. “But right now, with the way they are playing at practice and in games, it’s evident they are starting to believe within themselves of what they can achieve, who they can be.”
Flowery Branch (19-0) moves on to face No. 2 seed Riverwood — which blanked Arabia Mountain, 10-0, in the first round. The rematch of last year’s opening round clash will be next Tuesday at a time to be determined.
The Lady Falcons established a presence in the attacking third almost immediately. Following three ricochets off Kell’s crossbar over a matter of minutes, they finally broke through in the 11th minute as Shewbert tracked down a beautifully placed through ball from Kent and her off-balance chip from near the right flank sailed over Kell’s goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead.
While acknowledging nerves were apparent in the early going, Lilic also said it only added to the focus of a poised Flowery Branch attacking front that went on to spend majority of the match beyond midfield.
“Going into a playoff game — we are a young team — we were not going to overlook Kell, or any opponent,” the coach said. “We got unlucky on a few, hit the crossbar a few times and their keeper made some good saves. We were a bit lazy following up the second shots, but it was always gonna come. You could sense that.”
Minutes later, the floodgates opened.
After Grady scored inside 24 minutes left in the half, Reid followed suit with her first two goals, the second stretching the Lady Falcons lead to 4-0 by the 29th minute.
Minutes later, Kent added a banked goal of her own off the left post to cap the first-half surge.
Meanwhile, Kell finally breached the Lady Falcons’ back line with less than 10 minutes left in the first half. Mackenzie Franklin scored off the dribble to put the Lady Longhorns on the board with 8.3 seconds left.
Reid’s hat-trick score was included in a three-goal spurt for Flowery Branch minutes into the second half. The Longhorns added one last goal in the 49th minute, as Aisling Cummins launched a ball that curled inside the upper 90.
After squeezing by with a 1-0 win in the previous clash against Riverwood, Flowery Branch could face a much-improved squad in the next round.
The seventh-ranked Lady Raiders out of Atlanta finished second behind Decatur in the Region 6-5A standings. Their only goal surrendered in region play came in a 1-0 loss to eventual region unbeaten Lady Bulldogs on March 16.
Riverwood has averaged five goals a contest with 11 shutout victories in 2018 behind senior forward and leading scorer Kaitlyn Lauk, who signed with Reinhardt University earlier this month. Lauk’s hat trick paced the Lady Raiders in their first-round win Tuesday.
Lilic plans to dive into the film this week before implementing a concrete a course of action.
“It seems like (Riverwood) has had some good results this season,” he added. “I am sure it’ll be a difficult task and a good game.”