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Soccer: No. 1 Pinecrest beats Wesleyan to reach Final Four
Pinecrest Academy senior Grace Fowler approaches her free kick Monday during the Paladins' 3-1 win against Wesleyan School in the Class 1A Private Elite Eight. - photo by David Roberts

Pinecrest Academy's girls soccer team found something out about themselves Monday evening.

They need only 13 seconds to score a goal. 

That discovery came shortly after the second half of Monday's match against Wesleyan began, when Grace Fowler took the opening kick and dropped it perfectly in front of a sprinting Ivey Crain, who had by then outraced two defenders. Crain let the ball bounce, shuffled her feet and sent a rocket off her right foot and into the net, scoring what proved to be the game-winner with 39:47 left in the second half.

Pinecrest's defense held its end of the bargain, keeping the Wolves scoreless in the second half as the Paladins won 3-1 to reach the Class 1A Private Final Four.

"We've had a couple of kickoff chances," Pinecrest coach Dom Martelli said. "I can't remember if it's the start of the half, but we do that very well. What it is, is we have someone who is smart enough with the ball, and Ivey can time it. She's not just a straightforward runner. Her runs are bending and Grace can find that pocket. She's got that natural ability to let it drop and die and Ivey runs onto it."

Fowler targeted Crain on Pinecrest's first goal, too, hammering a free kick across midfield, all the way down between the corner flag and goal, which is where Crain corralled the ball and sent it back toward the middle. Camryn Newman was waiting there and took advantage of a disheveled back line, putting the Paladins up 1-0 early.

Wesleyan answered with 13:13 until halftime, when Lainey Jerding stretched out Pinecrest's defense before passing off to Kaitlyn Bobo, who flicked a shot toward the back post and past Ashley Kutter for the equalizer. 

But Pinecrest kept the Wolves off the board over the final 53:13 of play, thanks to its back line's tireless effort, which allowed the Paladins to build out of the back.

"I got a text from my dad and he goes, 'Your back four was outstanding.' ... Once you have that as your stability, it gives confidence to everybody else," Martelli said. "But what really was the key, was every time they tried to combine in the midfield, our midfielders shut them down. We defended as a group in the midfield. There were times where they were looking around and they didn't know where to pass, because our back four was set and our midfielders were one pass away."

Fowler led the Paladins' spirited play at midfield, clogging passing lanes and stepping in front of shots to frustrate the Wolves.

"Just never let them have any space to take a touch," Fowler said. "I knew that [Cady Triplett] — I was supposed to shut her down. That was my job all night because she has an amazing shot. So, I just said there's no way she's shooting tonight and just stepped in front of her."

Wesleyan controlled possession for much of the second half, resulting in eight shots and tipping the field in its favor.

The Wolves were one strike away until Crain drew a penalty kick with just over six minutes left, delivering the dagger to put Pinecrest ahead by an insurmountable two-goal lead.

"Especially when you're down and you're not winning, obviously you're going to be playing a little bit rougher," Crain said. "We just had to keep our heads up, play our own game and we finally got something off of it with the PK. I knew I had to put it away to show them what happens when you play dirty."

Pinecrest [17-2] is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A Private and will host Athens Academy on Thursday with a chance to reach the state championship match. 

The Paladins are responsible for Athens Academy's lone loss, beating the Spartans 4-3 last month.

"We play every single game like it's our last because it very well could be," Crain said. "And, yes, me and Grace are playing college, but a lot of our seniors are not. Everyone says high school memories are your best memories, and this team has given me and Grace some of the best memories. So, we just work our butts off and play as a family, and I think that's what gets us these wins."