Just hours before his birthday, Pinecrest head coach Domenic Martelli received his first birthday gift of the year.
His team won its Class 1A Private Final Four match against Atlanta International School, 2-1, in dramatic overtime fashion.
“There have been glimpses of how we could be for one half or 20 minutes,” Martelli said. “Never in all of our regular-season games, we never had all of our starters because of injuries. We never had the 11 that we started in our first-round state.”
“When you coach in your system and have the puzzle pieces that aren’t there, it’s nobody’s fault. But we are a team where truly every player matters. We win games. We’re in a state championship. I don’t know how else we prove that other than this run we’re on.”
After winning possession early in the first overtime period, freshman Paula Santa Maria intercepted Atlanta’s attempt to move the ball downfield and sent a pass to Ivey Crain off one touch.
Crain passed up one shot attempt and turned the corner on the defender, came across the 6-yard line and sent a screamer past Atlanta’s goalie for the eventual game-winning goal.
“Then the second overtime went by so quickly,” Martelli said. “They were getting tired, but since we had scored, we were playing smart and doing the things we needed to do to stop them.”
At the end of regulation, defensive midfielder Grace Fowler went down with an injury. Before overtime, Martelli told his team that they would readjust like they had been doing all night.
“Nothing changes,” Martelli said. “Let’s refresh what we’ve been doing well all night. Talk through taking away passing lanes, keeping the ball in front of us.”
Pinecrest was tied 1-1 thanks to Crain's first goal of the game fewer than five minutes into the game. Crain sent the Atlanta defenders moving in every direction after juking them to send the ball past the Atlanta goalie.
The current seniors for Martelli have never missed a Final Four in their career and will play in the state championship for their second time later this week.
They lost their Final Four game in 2018, lost in the state championship to Wesleyan in 2019 and had the season canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Only thing left is the title now,” Martelli said.
Martelli said he chose not to gather his team for a post-game conversation because of the energy he felt that the Pinecrest fans brought to the game, saying “Atlanta United had nothing on us tonight.”
But, of course, they came back and sang Martelli "Happy Birthday."
Martelli was unsure of where the state championship would be, but speculated it would be played Thursday or Friday.
Duluth, Powder Springs, Macon, and Savannah are the four hosting locations.