GAINESVILLE — Buford forward Maria Petroni is going to play soccer next year in the Southeastern Conference for a reason.
With four minutes to go in a game tied at two, the South Carolina signee put the Lady Wolves (8-1-1) soccer team on her back, scoring her second goal of the game and then assisting on a goal at the three-minute mark to give her team a 4-2 win over Flowery Branch on Wednesday in the Northeast Georgia Mountains Cup at Allen Creek Soccer Complex.
“She’s (Petroni) a great leader.” Buford coach Marianne Cagle said. “Not just on the field, but off. Her experience and knowing where to be when and just being able to lead the girls during play is incredible.”
The last four minutes of the game aside, Flowery Branch (6-4-0) matched Buford toe-to-toe, especially the Lady Falcons defense who, up until the waning minutes, didn’t allow a goal in the second half despite 14 shots on goal by the Lady Wolves.
The solid defense played by the Lady Falcons was and had to be constant as Flowery Branch’s offense didn’t get a solid possession, one in which the ball crossed the mid-field line, until 15 minutes into the second half and, even then, wasn’t able to maintain a possession until after Buford scored its final two goals.
The first half was a much different story.
After Buford’s Haley Holderfield scored the game’s first goal at the 34-minute mark off a header, Flowery Branch answered seven seconds later on a goal by Lindsey Porter.
Seven minutes after scoring its first goal, Buford regained the lead at 2-1 when Petroni dribbled across the box and hit a right-footed shot, putting it in the left corner of the goal.
It would take Flowery Branch one minute and twenty seconds to tie the game again, this time on a direct kick from the left side of the field by Porter that sailed just past the outstretched arms of Buford goalie Rachel Kaplan and into the right corner of the net.
“I told the girls at halftime that we had to work together,” Cagle said. “That’s what it came down to. The first half we weren’t working as a team and were getting frustrated with ourselves so we got over that and were able to have a great time of possession and score two late goals.
“The first half and second half, for us, were completely different teams.”
Buford didn’t allow a goal by Flowery Branch in the second half, the Lady Wolves rarely let them get a foot on the ball and after many missed opportunities broke the 2-2 tie when Abby Leiker played the ball to Petroni who took over from there, bringing it across the middle of the box and scoring from 10 yards out.
It was the senior forwards final goal of the game, but not her final contribution.
Two minutes after breaking the tie, Petroni hit a running Catherine Roadcap who put the ball into the left corner of the net.
“We were able to pick it up and overcome a lack of effort and intensity,” Cagle said. “We were able to pull it together.”
Buford returns to action at 8 p.m. Friday in the Northeast Georgia Mountains Cup championship game where it will play the winner of the Chestatee-Winder matchup.
Flowery Branch will play at 6 p.m. Friday in the girls third place game against Chestatee.