PERRY, Ga. — The Columbus girls soccer team had the opportunity it needed and the right person for the job.But, as they say, the ball just didn’t bounce its way.
A penalty kick attempt with five minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the game failed for the Lady Blue Devils, who lost 1-0 to Veterans in the Class AAAA semifinals at Perry High School. The loss ends Columbus’ bid at a third straight trip to the state championship game, where it could have gotten the rematch with Marist it so coveted.
“The best team in AAAA is going to be sitting at home on Saturday,” Columbus coach Rusty Oliver said.
Trailing by a goal, the Lady Blue Devils sent junior Lane Burbrink in for an attempt at a penalty kick late in the second half. After a second half of minimal opportunities, it appeared they had the chance they needed to knot the score.
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Instead, Burbrink’s shot hit the crossbar, ricocheted into Veterans keeper Erin Harbison’s shoulder and bounced over the goal and out of bounds.
All Burbrink could do was stare in disbelief. The final minutes ticked off the clock, and though Columbus had a handful of small opportunities, it couldn’t squeeze in the equalizer.
After the game, Oliver comforted her on the sidelines.
“She put the whole weight of the game on herself,” he said. “Whether she made it or not, we didn’t lose this game on one play. This was an 80-minute game and we played well for 80 minutes. We had some things go — I won’t say what I want to say because I’ll get fined for it, but we should have won this game.”
On the other side of the ball, Veterans got the benefit of the bounce on its lone goal of the contest. In the 62nd minute, Shelby King had the open look she needed and just enough separation from the defenders to make a clean kick, something that had nagged both team the entire contest.
She kicked hard to the right side from about 10 yards out. Columbus keeper Anna Scogin got her hands on it, but the ball bounced just inside the right post for the score.
"It was a beautiful goal by her,” Veterans coach Whitney Rider said. “It's even more special because it's her birthday today and she's a senior."
Bad breaks notwithstanding, Columbus was ultimately done in by an airtight defense that didn’t allow it many opportunities the entire contest.
The closest the Lady Blue Devils came to a score, other than the penalty kick, was on a break in the final 10 seconds of the first half. Freshman Kimberly May possessed the ball and looked to have a shot as Harbison came out to try and cover the ball. A Veterans defender, however, affected the possession and May was unable to make an attempt.
Oliver noted coming into the match that Veterans’ strong defense would mean one slip in either direction could affect the outcome of the contest.
In the end, that’s all it took.
But Oliver wouldn’t let his seniors, the most accomplished senior class in the program’s history, walk off the field with heads hanging. He walked around to each of them, gave them a hug and a message.
“I told them that one game could not dictate their careers,” Oliver said. “Because our seniors have stuck with us for four years. For four years, they’ve been one of the best group of seniors we’ve had.”
And he told the team that one game couldn’t dictate the success of their season, which was made up of 18 wins and only two losses, one to Veterans on Wednesday and one to East Coweta, which played in the Class AAAAAA semifinals.
“This team has nothing to be ashamed of,” Oliver said.
And speaking of playing the what-if game after a loss, Oliver said that wouldn’t happen immediately.
“The what-if is going to come next year,” he said.
Wednesday at Perry High
Goals—Veterans, Shelby King. Keepers—Veterans, Erin Harbison; Columbus, Anna Scogin. Records—Veterans, 18-1; Columbus 18-2-1.