Soccer teams may not get many scoring opportunities, so finishing those chances is a must.
The second-ranked Columbus girls soccer team had to be patient against No. 4 Spalding Saturday afternoon at Kinnett Stadium, but the Blue Devils were able to finish when they had the chance and they earned a 2-0 win over the Jaguars in a Class AAAA state playoff quarterfinal match.
"I'm extremely happy with the way we played and how we possessed the ball," said Columbus coach Russell Oliver, whose team is back in the state semifinals for the third straight season. "We knew coming in that Spalding would play a defensive match, so we knew we'd have to be patient. Thankfully, (Kimberly) May and (Kyla) Wright had the individual skills to help get us goals and this team knows how to score goals."
Columbus now hits the road for its semifinal match, going to No. 3 Veterans (17-1) in Kathleen -- just outside Warner Robins -- on Wednesday. Veterans advanced to the final four by outlasting No. 5 River Ridge, 1-0, Saturday in Woodstock.
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Spalding (17-2) -- which came into the match riding a 13-match win streak dating back to the beginning of March -- almost got on the board first, as Reece McIver's shot in the fourth minute slid just wide of the left post. Columbus tightened up its defense on McIver after that and the Spalding forward was kept in check for the majority of the match.
Columbus got its first goal in the 15th minute, when Taylor Schuler found May with a pass just outside the penalty area. May, a freshman forward, dribbled back and forth between Spalding defenders to create a shooting lane before cranking a left-footed shot from about 20 yards out that found the back of the net to give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.
May is one of several freshmen, along with defenders Madeline Goodfellow and Sage Konans and forwards Gigi Schorr, Savannah Bridges and Sarah Nell Beach, who have played a big role in helping Columbus to win its last 13 matches going back to the middle of March.
"People asked me at the beginning of this year how we were going to do because of all the people we lost," Oliver said. "But our seniors and upperclassmen have stepped up and shown leadership ability and these freshmen have learned what it means to be in this program and what's expected of them."
Spalding almost tied the match in the waning moments of the first half. The Jaguars had a header off a corner kick go over the crossbar in the 35th minute. Then, in the 38th minute, a direct kick by Spalding hit the crossbar and Goodfellow cleared a follow-up volley off the goal line to keep it 1-0 Columbus at halftime.
Columbus (18-1-1) kept the offensive pressure up in the second half, but Spalding did get a counterattack in the 57th minute when McIver got loose behind the Blue Devils' defense. However, senior defender Mallory Lotz got back just in time to poke the ball away from McIver and snuff out the scoring opportunity.
Two minutes later, Wright sent a pass up the left side of the field to May, who got around the Jaguars' defenders and knocked a shot into the bottom right corner of the net to make it 2-0 Columbus.
"Definitely one of the strengths of this team is the way we possess and pass the ball," said Wright, who is going to play soccer at West Georgia. "We're close off the field, too, and that creates a bond. We've had matches where we play well individually, but the past couple of matches, we've really played as a team and it's been working out well for us."
The Blue Devils had some other scoring chances in the final 20-plus minutes, but were unable to find another goal. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils' defensive corps kept Spalding in check en route to recording its 13th shutout of the season. For the match, Columbus outshot Spalding, 20-8, and Blue Devils keeper Anna Scogin -- who is headed to Truett-McConnell College -- had to make only three saves to earn the victory in goal.
"Honestly, to be going back to the final four is amazing," said Wright. "It feels great. When I was a freshman, I didn't feel like the seniors that year gave it their all. I'm glad all of us seniors are playing our hardest for this group of freshmen we have. We've been to the state finals before, but we're better this year and we're going to win. This was just a check mark along the way."
Saturday at Kinnett
Goals--Columbus: Kimberly May 2. Assists--Columbus: Kyla Wright, Taylor Schuler. Goalies--Spalding: Madison Stansell 7 saves. Columbus: Anna Scogin 3 saves. Records--Spalding 17-2, Columbus 18-1-1. Next: No. 2 Columbus at No. 3 Veterans (17-1) (Class AAAA State Playoffs Semifinals) Wednesday, Time TBD.