It didn't take long for Pinecrest’s girls soccer team to feel a sense of danger in the Class 1A-Private championship at McEachern on Thursday.
Just three minutes in, the Paladins allowed the game's first goal to Wesleyan's Lucy Mitchell, a Notre Dame commit. For the rest of the half, they didn't look like themselves, with the Wolves owning the possession battle for the rest of the period. Pinecrest resorted to clearing ball after ball in its own half of the field.
That worked for a while, but eventually, Wesleyan struck again. With 16:37 left in the first half, Mitchell kicked the ball towards Pinecrest’s goal from inside the box. The initial shot was blocked by goalkeeper Caroline Jeffcoat, but the ball bounced right back to Mitchell’s foot, and she took advantage of her second chance for the score. That goal seemed to serve as confirmation: It wasn’t the Paladins’ day.
“I felt like Caroline couldn't really do anything about that,” Ivey Crain said. “Every time they took a shot, I held my breath.”
Crain scored what ended up being Pinecrest’s only goal of the game towards the end of the first half, but the Paladins couldn’t overcome their rough start despite a respectable second half, ultimately taking a 3-1 loss to end their season.
Pinecrest wasn’t at full strength due to sickness on Thursday, but that fact didn’t make the loss any easier to take or detract from the frustration and disappointment that overtook the Paladins after the final horn.
“We came into the game with a game plan and we did none of that in the first 40 minutes.” Pinecrest coach Domenic Martelli said. “That’s what's the frustrating part. With the crowd being so loud, you're trying to get people to adjust. But the worst part is, they couldn’t adjust because of the kids being sick and not being able to go.”
After Mitchell’s second score, Crain delivered a goal off a header just 54 seconds before the break. It was the only goal Wesleyan allowed during its entire playoff run, and down 2-1 at the half, Pinecrest had hope that a comeback was still in reach.
“I think the team and I felt that if we scored that one, we could keep it going, pick up the intensity and get back up,” Crain said.
The Paladins did play better in the second half, but couldn’t take advantage of the few chances they got. With 22 minutes to play, Wesleyan scored its third goal, putting Pinecrest in a hole they ultimately couldn’t dig out of.
“We still were able to come back and show them a good second half,” Martelli said. “They went all out at us and we had no more gas left.”
Pinecrest may have fallen short in its first-ever chance at a GHSA team championship, but with a young core, they’re hopeful that they can be back on the state's biggest stage soon.
“I'm really disappointed in myself and I'm really sad that (we) didn't win state, especially for the seniors,” Crain said. “This whole season was really great and I'm glad I got to go with these girls. I think we'll grow as a team and we'll get better.”