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Flowery Branch girls soccer outdueled by Pope in second round
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Flowery Branch’s Kayla Robles fights for the ball against Laura Weber of Pope during the second round of the Class AAAAA state soccer playoffs Tuesday in Flowery Branch. - photo by Nat Gurley | The Times

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Flowery Branch girls aren’t the first soccer team to discover that no lead is safe in the second round of the state playoffs.

But giving up a lead never ceases to sting. Especially when the season is on the line and a one-goal advantage is in hand with five minutes left to play.

Such was the case for the Lady Falcons (13-4-2), who saw a one-goal lead late in Tuesday’s second-round game against Pope turn sour, eventually resulting in a 2-1 loss after a 4-2 penalty kick session.

“Props to (Pope) for not giving in,” Flowery Branch coach Katie Scali said. “They kept pushing and pushing, and (us) just not putting away our penalties. You hate for it to come that, but that’s how it goes.”

Pope (12-5-2) tied the game with 5:25 left to play when Flowery Branch goalkeeper Elizabeth Bachmann misplayed an incoming ball, coming out far enough to give Lady Greyhounds forward Jessie Sexton enough room to gain possession and send the ball into the open net.

Following two scoreless overtime sessions, Pope’s Taylor Meneide, Hailey Johnston, Alexa Moore and Alex Grace each scored penalty kicks to secure the win.

“It’s just unfortunate — bad communication in the back, maybe,” Scali said. “Fatigue getting on our heels a little bit. Just a little bit of a mix-up, and they put one away.”

Kelsey Read and Kayla Robles couldn’t convert the first two penalty kicks for the Lady Falcons, both shots sailing high. Hannah Kirk and Corrie Thomas scored on the following two, but Grace’s attempt clinched the best-of-five shootout.

“It’s funny, because we’ve worked more on PKs at practice more this year than we have any other year,” Scali said. “It’s so hard to simulate the situation.”

Pope moves on to the third round Friday, when it visits Northgate.

Flowery Branch, which has been to the state playoffs the last three seasons, will have to wait until next year to try for its first quarterfinals appearance since 2009.

“I hate to go out this way, but I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Scali said. “We had a good year. We hoped we would go another round, maybe two.”

“The past couple of years we’ve had outstanding seniors. The leadership has been amazing, and that core group has been great.”

At a level of the tournament where playoff experience is key to success, it was the Lady Falcons’ lone freshman that scored their only goal.

Kimberly McNeil broke a scoreless game two minutes into the second half, tapping in the ball near the left post after being set up by Julia Sienkiewicz and Thomas.

“She was just in the right place at the right time, being ready and being prepared,” Scali said. “She’s a great player — I’m looking forward to three more years to develop with her.”

Flowery Branch continued to work the Pope defense for remainder of the second half, particularly on corner plays from Alex Lee to Jacy Ramey.

Lee connected with Ramey for headers in front of the net on four different occasions in the half. One went wide to the right, the other three sailing no more than few feet over the crossbar.

“She just couldn’t get one down,” Scali said.

Flowery Branch led the shot count 10-7, including a pair of chances in the first overtime session. Bachmann made six saves on the night, while Pope goalkeeper Sam Piper stopped seven.