Even with one of its key contributors sidelined in its postseason opener, the Flowery Branch girls soccer team is moving on in the Class 5A playoffs.
The Lady Falcons beat Riverwood 1-0 without the services of center midfielder Anna Gray in the teams’ first-round game Thursday night at Flowery Branch High. Flowery Branch coach Katie Scali said Grady will miss the rest of the postseason with an injury, but she was encouraged by what she saw in the freshman’s absence.
“We weren’t clicking and moving as well as we usually do, but we had a major piece missing,” Scali said. “We pushed through it tonight, and I think more practice will help. We had just been practicing against each other, but being in a game situation should help us connect better.”
Caroline Wysocki scored the game’s only goal, giving the short-handed Lady Falcons (11-6-1) the lift they needed in their first trip to the playoffs since 2014.
She helped second-seeded Flowery Branch advance to the second round, where it will host No. 4 seed Dutchtown at a time to be determined Tuesday. Dutchtown upset No. 1 seed Wayne County 4-2 in the first round Thursday.
Flowery Branch will likely rely on the same tactical changes when the Bulldogs come to town.
In Grady’s absence, Scali moved Allyson Lusco up to the front line and shifted Wysocki from her usual position of forward to outside midfielder. The coach commended junior varsity player Ella Reilly for filling in on the pitch, though the team took some time to acclimate to the new lineup.
“I could tell the impact (Grady) has on us because of how much we missed her tonight,” Wysocki said. “We struggled here and there, but we were able to pull through without her.”
Scali said her players had problems “connecting” in the attacking third, and that was apparent throughout the first 20 minutes Thursday night.
The Lady Falcons missed out on several promising chances early in the game, usually in the counterattack. When Riverwood (10-8-1) defender weren’t poking away passes, Flowery Branch players’ services were often just out of their teammates’ reach.
But the Lady Falcons finally broke through in the 30th minute when Wysocki displayed some deft dribbling around a defender before burying the ball past the Lady Raiders’ diving goalie.
“(Katharine Lonczak) passed the ball up to me, then I cut inside and right back out,” the sophomore said. “After that, I just put it in the bottom corner of the net.”
Wysocki had two more good looks at the goal in the second half, during which Flowery Branch put six shots on goal.
No. 3 seed Riverwood had its fair share of opportunities in the early going, as well, forcing Flowery Branch goalkeeper Kelsey Mathis to come up with four saves in the opening 15 minutes. She finished with 10 saves, three of which came in the frantic final minutes after the Lady Falcons’ defense tightened up down the stretch.
The Lady Raiders threatened late with a corner kick that sailed too far outside the 18-yard box in the 75th minute. Mathis then charged and caught an arcing service into the box one minute later, and Flowery Branch was able to maintain possession and run out the clock from there.
“We worked all week on defense because we knew Riverwood had some really good speed up top,” Scali said. “Our midfielders applied some high pressure throughout the game, and we were able to chase everything down.”
The Lady Falcons now turn their eyes to Dutchtown, the No. 4 seed out of Region 4-5A. After winning six of its final seven regular-season games to finish second in Region 8-5A, Flowery Branch hopes it can turn that momentum into a quarterfinal appearance.
“It feels good to make it to the next round, especially being down a player,” Scali said. “We’ve been good at making adjustments all season and had to do it again tonight. We asked people to do some different things, and they all stepped up.
“It wasn’t as pretty as we’d like, but we’re still happy to get the win.”