BRISTOL — Science Hill dodged a bullet on Tuesday night, although Sullivan Central’s faithful didn’t feel like it got a fair shot.
The Lady Toppers, the regular season champion, rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the final 13 minutes to defeat fifth-seeded Sullivan Central, 3-2, in a District 1-AAA semifinal.
Dani Cade scored the game-winner in the 75th minute on an inadvertent — and perhaps unofficial — assist from Timbra Delaney via what appeared to be a handball.
Science Hill (17-1) takes on Dobyns-Bennett in the championship on Thursday at 6 p.m. Weather could move the match to Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton Stadium.
Sullivan Central coach Cliff Ferguson felt like he was digesting home cooking, as it was.
“It was a handball right in front of the box and the referee was standing right there, and for what reason he didn’t call that, I don’t know,” Ferguson said. “I feel confident that both teams knew that it was a handball, because both teams quit playing. And then when no whistle was blown, the Science Hill player reached out and basically toe-poked it in. … So you end your season on a dismal non-call.”
Science Hill coach Megan Harmon was empathetic — to a point.
“Would I have been upset? Probably,” Harmon said. “Was Cliff upset? Yeah. But there were some fouls I thought should’ve been called.
“I mean there’s things that go your way and things that don’t go your way. But the bottom line is, you know, he didn’t call it, and there’s nothing we can do to change that now.”
Science Hill defeated Central 2-0 during the regular season and seemed to be in command while outshooting the Lady Cougars 17-1 in the first half. But the Lady Toppers only led 1-0 at intermission thanks to Delaney’s score in the 36th minute.
Brittany Hyder tied the score at 1 four minutes into the second half, and Tiffany Norris gave Central a 2-1 lead by blasting a point-blank opportunity past diving keeper Jona Charles just inside the left post.
With inferior depth and a one-goal advantage, Ferguson packed it in with extra defenders.
“It left our offense a little short — hoping we could stave off the attack,” Ferguson said. “It worked for a while. … I don’t take nothing away from Science Hill. They’re a very good passing team. But at the same time our kids showed a lot of effort and a lot of resilience, and we don’t have a lot of players on the bench. I only had two substitute players.”
Delaney’s second goal tied the score at 2 with some 13 minutes remaining. Delaney scored on a rebound she gathered after Jessica Fabozzi’s shot had hit the crossbar.
It was one of 18-20 shots Science Hill got in perhaps a 25-minute span. Rachel Jones, Fabozzi, Grace Browder, Mary Alice Pope and Alex Fellers were among Science Hill’s players contributing to the barrage.
“When you pack it back in there like that we’re gonna get shots,” Harmon said, “but they may not be the best shot we could have possibly had.”
Science Hill’s players exited the Stone Castle with a sense of relief that was palpable. So did their fans, who seemed to be waiting to exhale for most of the second half while foreboding shadows grew long in the autumn evening.
“It’s a team that didn’t want their season to end,” Harmon said, “and that’s what they played for tonight. … A win’s a win, and we’re thankful to get out of here with a win. We’re thankful we get to practice tomorrow.”
The Lady Toppers had been off since Oct. 10 and Harmon saw rust. She was pleased with their poise under pressure, a trait not always evident early in the season.
“We started pointing fingers at each other, yelling at each other (when trailing at the beginning of the season),” Harmon said. “That’s how I know this team has grown. I didn’t see that (tonight). I didn’t see them start stressing out. I didn’t see them start yelling at each other.”
It was Central’s Ferguson who felt like yelling in the endgame Tuesday.
“I’m pleased with our kids; I’m not very pleased with the referee,” Ferguson said. “As far as I’m concerned we ended it in a tie, but we’re going home.”
Science Hill’s lone loss this season was to Chattanooga Christian in the championship of a tournament in Chattanooga. The Lady Toppers defeated Dobyns-Bennett 1-0 this season.