GRIFFIN — As quickly as the Flowery Branch girls soccer team gained momentum, they saw it slip away.
Trailing fifth-ranked Spalding 3-2 at halftime, Flowery Branch junior Lindsay Porter scored the equalizer just five minutes into the second half when she received a through pass from Cassidy Elrod.
One-on-one with the goalie, Porter fired a hard right-footed shot into the back of the net to tie the game 3-3.
But less than a minute later, Spalding (14-3) was awarded a free kick near midfield and capitalized.
With her teammates lining the penalty box, Spalding’s Lauren Barlow sent the ball in from 35-yards out and it bounced in front of
Flowery Branch’s goalie, richocheted off the crossbar and landing at Mira Fisher, who tapped in what would be the game-winner.
“We struggled with set plays all year long and I told the girls that it would eventually come back to bite us and it did,” Flowery Branch coach Kaite Scali said after her team’s 4-3 loss Friday in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA state soccer tournament.
Not only did a set play eventually end the Lady Falcons season, but several set plays put the Lady Falcons (13-8) behind early.
Just four minutes into the game, Barlow scored her first of three goals when she headed in a corner kick from Marisa Leary.
Cassidy Elrod scored six minutes later to tie the game at 1, but Barlow gave the Lady Jaguars the lead with yet another header off a corner by Leary.
Elrod answered Barlow’s goal with another one of her own with 13:40 left in the first half. But like the other times before, Spalding regained the lead before halftime with yet another goal by Barlow.
This time it was on a free kick just outside the penalty box, giving Spalding a 3-2 lead.
Although Barlow single-handedly put the Lady Falcons in a deficit, and despite what the scoreboard indicated, Scali believed that her team dominated the first half.
“We didn’t feel like the goals they scored were earned,” Scali said.
Porter’s second-half equalizer certainly was.
After starting the second half pestering the Spalding’s defense, Elrod took the ball at midfield and chipped it ahead to Porter, who timed the run perfectly and was left all alone with just the goalie to beat.
Scali wasn’t surprised that her team was able to put goals on the board.
“Anyone that knows us knows that we can score,” she said. “It’s stopping goals that’s been our problem.”
Which was evident on Spalding’s next possession that ended with the game-winner.
“You always think that you don’t want that momentum switch,” Spalding coach Wayne Gardner said. “We were lucky to get that game-winner quick.”
Not being able to put the game out of reach did not surprise Gardner.
“The things I heard about Flowery Branch was that they were very busy and had some dangerous forwards,” he said. “Everything I heard was true.”
He also heard that despite being a young team, the Lady Falcons played with a lot of determination and a no-quit attitude. And although their season ended with the loss Friday, Scali took pride in the fact that this year’s team made it further than any other girls soccer team in Flowery Branch history.
“I’m real proud of them,” Scali said. “I don’t think anyone expected us to get this far except for those girls over there in those uniforms.
“We set a goal of making the state tournament and we met that goal,” she added. “And next year we’ll go further.”
The Lady Falcons, whose season is now complete, loses only four seniors off of this year’s team in Katie Peifer, Chery Sloggy, Vicki Todd and Erika Wellborn.
Spalding advances to play the winner of the North Hall/Eagles Landing game which takes place at 7:30 tonight at North Hall.