Over and over again, Gainesville’s girls were agonizingly close to the goal they needed.
“I think if we look back on it, I’m sure there were 10 chances that were really good chances that we messed up,” Gainesville girls soccer coach Mark Wade said. “We kicked it to the keeper several times and missed a run or missed a pass, little things like that. It comes back and bites you.”
And those misses came back to bite seventh-ranked Gainesville in the worst way.
The Lady Red Elephants never found the second goal that seemed like little more than a formality while they were peppering Creekview goalkeeper Annie Conrad with shots. Gainesville remained deadlocked with Creekview 1-1 until the Lady Grizzlies prevailed 4-3 in a penalty-kick shootout in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs on Tuesday at City Park Stadium in Gainesville.
The loss brought a heartbreaking end to the season for Region 8-AAAAA champion Gainesville (14-2), which came into the contest riding an 11-game winning streak. The team’s only other loss of the season came March 3 against unbeaten Lumpkin County.
“You’ve got to finish in the playoffs,” Wade said. “If you don’t finish your opportunities, you don’t win. You don’t get a chance to grow into the playoffs; you better be playing well when you get here. We had plenty of chances, we just didn’t finish.”
Gainesville found itself in an early hole, after Creekview’s Mackenzie Cherry caught everyone by surprise by hooking a shot into the left side of the net in the ninth minute of the game.
Less than five minutes later, Gainesville began to dominate possession — and the scoring opportunities.
“I thought that there was a big stretch of the first half and a big stretch of the second half where we were doing a really good job and they really didn’t have very many opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize and we let them off the deck,” Wade said.
The Lady Red Elephants almost pulled even in the 26th minute when Breana Fair blasted a long shot off the top left corner of the goal from the right side of the field. Less than a minute later, Alyssa Turner found herself in better position closer to the goal and buried her shot in the bottom left corner of the net.
Creekview (12-6), the No. 4 seed from Region 7-AAAAA, flirted with disaster less than nine minutes into the second half, when the ball spun over Conrad’s hands on a shot by Gainesville’s Elizabeth Fischer. The goalkeeper recovered just in time to keep it from bouncing over the line.
Turner threatened again for Gainesville in the 57th minute in a one-on-one situation with Conrad in front of the goal.
Turner’s first shot forced the goalkeeper into a diving save, and though the forward regained possesion of the ball for a second shot, she was unable to hook it inside the right post.
Gainesville’s scoring chances dwindled down the stretch in the second half, and the best opportunity in the final minutes of regulation came from Creekview. Gainesville goalkeeper Alondra Wedding was forced to make a nice save with less than three minutes remaining to keep the game tied 1-1.
“When we were possessing the ball early in the second half we were controlling it a little bit, then we kind of fell in love with the long ball, and that’s what they (Creekview) want,” Wade said. “They’ve got good kids back there and they want you to play the ball into them long. I think when we got tired we started (doing that). That gave them lots and lots of possession.”
Gainesville’s last quality scoring opportunity came on a Turner breakaway midway through the first overtime period, but her shot was straight at Conrad.
Gainesville chose to kick first in the penalty shootout, but with the tally tied 2-2, the Lady Red Elephants’ third attempt glanced over the top of the crossbar and gave Creekview the opportunity it needed.
Samantha Rolka and Maddie Hill tacked on Creekview’s third and fourth consecutive successful penalty kicks, and when Gainesville’s fifth attempt sailed over the crossbar, the Lady Grizzlies were able to celebrate their upset.
“I don’t want to say we won it (region) too early, but I think that maybe coming back from spring break and having the region sewed up maybe let us take our foot off the gas a little bit, and that’s something we’re going to have to really look at between this year and next,” Wade said. “We lose two very, very talented seniors: Jazmin Penado, who’s going to Piedmont, and Liz Fischer, who hasn’t decided yet where she’s going to play.”
Creekview will travel to Evans in the second round of the playoffs on Tuesday.
Despite the loss, Wade was able to reflect on the positive elements of Gainesville’s 2015 run.
“I’m really proud of the girls with what we accomplished this season,” Wade said. “It turned out we basically ended up having to win all nine games in the region to win.
“For us to be able to do that is quite an accomplishment. I told them before, it was (our) first undefeated region (record) since 2003, so I was proud of that.”