The quiet that fell over Pinecrest Academy's soccer field was signal of the pressure surrounding Allie Doerr's penalty kick. The Paladins girls soccer team was in the Class 1A-Private state semifinals again on Tuesday, facing Athens Academy, the same team that knocked them out at this stage of the tournament last season.
Pinecrest had been largely in control the first half, with the edge in possession and moves forward, but couldn't get the final move to snatch a goal. The Spartans, meanwhile, continued to threaten with long balls forward, regularly forcing the Paladins' back line into action.
But when Doerr's kick whizzed past the goalkeeper and slammed into the back of the net, any tension affecting the Paladins seemed to melt away, and they put in three more within the next 16 minutes to finalize a 4-0 romp. Pinecrest is now in its first-ever final of a GHSA team sport, and is set to try for its first-ever championship next Thursday against Wesleyan.
"So many girls had their best game tonight," Paladins head coach Domenic Martelli said. "Because they played within themselves, and they knew if they did their own parts, everything fell into place."
The Paladins had reason to be confident entering Tuesday's game, as they beat Athens Academy 3-0 back in March. But they also knew the Spartans had allowed just four goals in their last 14 matches, all of which were wins.
"We knew that they had changed their system, and we knew that it was going to be a tough task," Doerr said. "And everything's different in the playoffs."
The difference between this year's Pinecrest team and last year's, though, is its strength in numbers, as Martelli sees it. The Paladins' forwards did not have to generate moves on their own, as Olivia Gannon and Sofia Alvarez del Pino could push the ball up through the midfield, pressuring the Spartans outside the box as well as within.
"They (the midfielders) were able to get the ball quite often, and (Athens Academy) had to chase us," Martelli said. "And all they had once they won it was just the long ball forward."
But the night's most spectacular goal was one of freshman striker Ivey Crain's own. She collected a long pass and dribbled straight into the box herself, and, rather than take the straight-on shot that she had available, pulled a "Maradona" by spinning to her right. The ensuing shot was to the far post and gave the goalkeeper no chance a save.
At that point, 31:39 remained in the game. Roughly seven minutes later, Alvarez del Pino scored on a shot from outside the box, and just under seven minutes after that, Doerr generated a goal herself, dribbling on the left side of the box to create space and hitting a shot high off the keeper's hand and in.
The amount of pressure riding on the Paladins' last game depends on who you ask. Martelli thinks it's largely off at this point: Making is this far is accomplishment enough. Doerr, on the other hand, acknowledged feeling some, but also that it was overshadowed by something that could be more productive for Pinecrest.
"Pressure, yes," Doerr said. "But mostly excitement, to go out there and just play the way we know we can play and just go win this thing."