BUFORD - Buford’s girls soccer team was fast, but St. Pius X was faster in a Class AAAA state quarterfinal game on Friday.
The second-ranked Lady Wolves came out with a bang and scored on a shot from Brie Smith just 40 seconds into the game, but it turned out to be their lone goal, as fourth-ranked St. Pius X prevailed 4-1 and eliminated Buford from the playoffs for the second time in three years.
“They were fast,” Buford coach Crystal Fowler said. “I don’t think there’s a slow girl on their team.”
She noted that Buford (14-2) expected the team to be quick, but thought the Lady Wolves could match St. Pius’ speed.
“We did for the most part,” Fowler said. “We changed our formation at halftime because we thought we needed more offensive production.”
Buford held the lead for 25 minutes of the first half, before the Golden Lions’ Birdie Lombardo tied the game.
Anya Mancinelli put St. Pius X (17-2) up for good with four minutes left in the first half and added the go-ahead goal with just under two minutes until halftime.
The St. Pius defense was one of the primary factors hindering the Wolves from producing. Fowler noted that the team wasn’t especially used to the style of defense the Golden Lions used.
“We haven’t faced anything like that in over a month,” Fowler said. “We’ve only faced it once against Blessed Trinity. We knew they were going to come at us, and they did all game.”
Both teams lost steam in the second half, but the Golden Eagles were able to keep their legs just a little longer.
“It was 80 minutes of sprints,” Fowler said. “Unfortunately, legs don’t last for 80 minutes of sprints sometimes.”
Fowler and captain Brooke Horist noted that St. Pius X used formations that the team was unfamiliar with, which led to some confusion and a breakdown on the field.
“We didn’t know what to do,” she said. “They challenged us, which we haven’t had a lot this season. They have a different formation that we haven’t played against at all.”
Fowler felt that Buford played better in the second half and was better able to adjust to the Golden Eagles’ formations.
“We did better,” she said. “They only scored once in the second half, but they scored three in the first half.”
St. Pius’s second-half goal came from Lauren McKeever with 18 minutes left in the game.
The team mentioned that many of the Lady Wolves play on club teams with St. Pius players, so they are familiar with each other on and off the field.
“They know what their strengths are, they know what their weaknesses are and how to shut them down,” Fowler said. “It’s very intense. Some of them are playing together on the weekends and then have to come out here and go against each other.”
Horist, who is committed to play at Coastal Carolina, emphasized that her experiences on the Buford team this season were different from the last time the Lady Wolves faced St. Pius in the state tournament.
“It was a long season of ups and downs, but it has never been better,” Horist said. “We knew that we had a chance against them this year, and we had more motivation.”