Although the Region 1-AAA girls’ soccer sectional was played in Johnson City, Saturday proved the road to the state tournament still goes through Knoxville.
Bearden hit homestanding Science Hill with a barrage of early shots to take a 4-1 victory on Saturday afternoon at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
“I think more of our problem rather than physical is getting past the mental block of Knoxville teams,” said Lady ’Toppers head coach Megan Harmon, whose team finished the season 20-2. “You hear Knoxville teams, Knoxville teams, Knoxville teams. I believe we’re at that caliber physically to compete, but mentally, I don’t know if we’re quite there yet.
“But, we have that taste in our mouths and we’ll come back firing again next year.”
It is a return to the state tournament for the Lady Bulldogs (18-4-1) whose three of four losses this season have come against undefeated Farragut. The Lady Bulldogs have a program steeped in tradition with eight state tournament appearances and back-to-back championships in 2006-07.
“By the time we get out of our district and region, we’re pretty salty,” Bearden head coach Eric Turner said. “We’ve put in a lot of work, put in a lot of minutes and played a lot of intense games. It makes it easy when we can score goals and manage the game from that point.”
Kristi Granger put Bearden up in the sixth minute with a shot which flew past Science Hill goalkeeper Jona Charles to the left upper corner of the goal.
Less than two minutes later, Charles made a great save on a similar shot by Rebecca Stover. However, Gabrielle Gianaselli was there to gather the rebound and put in a short boot for a 2-0 lead.
Charles was injured in the fracas and didn’t return until 10 minutes left in the half.
The Lady Bulldogs made a three-goal lead just nine minutes later with Granger’s second goal.
Before another five mintes passed, Bearden held a 4-0 advantage as Stover made the best of an opportunity off Rebecca Buchanan’s corner kick.
“That’s been our goal since we don’t have a lot of depth,” Turner said. “The opening half we want to get the early goals and take the crowds out of the game. We’ve played every game on the road since the first round of districts so we did a good job of that.”
Finally getting on track, Science Hill’s Taylor Newsom had a couple of near misses with free kick from 25 yards out that hit the football crossbar, and a free kick from 45 yards which required a diving save by Bearden keeper Katie Cottrell.
In the second half, Timbra Delaney nearly got the Lady ’Toppers on the board in the 55th minute, but her shot went outside the right goalpost. Five minutes later, Delaney’s penalty kick sailed high to end any scoring threat.
Staying on the attack, Jessica Fabozzi finally broke Science Hill’s drought in the 70th minute with a 25-yard shot which arched over the outstretched arms of the Bearden keeper.
Bearden, whose last shot came from Science Hill transfer Brennan Day, had a 17-12 advantage in shot attempts. However, Science Hill held the advantage 7-5 in the second half.
Delaney led Science Hill with three shots, while Fabozzi and Newsom each fired two shots.
“At halftime, the score was 4-0,” Harmon said. “I looked at the girls and told them they had a choice to either roll over and die or change this to become something positive. I’m really proud of the girls in the second half. They worked their tails off and that was a great second half.”
It was a final game for three Lady ’Toppers — Alex Fellers, Dani Cade and Newsom — who went 40-5 and made sectional appearances in their junior and senior seasons.
Despite those losses, Science Hill should return a strong team next season with 10 juniors on the roster.
They include Lexi Sonekeo, Mary Alice Pope and Sidney Bailey, who had an assist in Wednesday’s regional final victory against Morristown West.
“When you have two seasons combined with five losses, that speaks volumes about these girls,” Harmon said. “It doesn’t matter to them how many district and region championships, they want to get to the state tournament. We will keep working in the offseason and it’s going to come. We’re looking forward to that day when we’re the ones headed to state.”