Staff Photo: Jason Braverman<br> North Gwinnett's Krissy Tamburo can't watch as the Harrison players and fans celebrate the Class AAAAA state championship on Friday night. Harrison beat North Gwinnett 1-0.
KENNESAW -- The North Gwinnett girls made the one costly mistake they couldn't afford Friday night. They surrendered an early goal to possibly the best defensive team in Class AAAAA girls soccer history.
That goal, in the seventh minute, held for the next 73 as the defending state champion Bulldogs lost 1-0 on the road to top-ranked Harrison in the AAAAA championship game. The Hoyas' triumph ended a four-year hold on the AAAAA title by Gwinnett girls teams.
"To make it to the finals, we had to play some tough teams just to get there," North girls coach Mark Karen said. "We just ran into a buzzsaw defense tonight. We accomplished a lot. And overall this season was almost as gratifying as last season."
Down in the 1-0 hole, third-ranked North (19-4) never got the equalizer against a defense that gave up only five goals in 23 matches. The Hoyas gave up just two goals in their last 21 games of the season.
The Bulldogs' comeback effort took a huge hit less than three minutes after halftime when a collision sent star center back Abigail Groth to the bench. The Utah signee wasn't able to return, spending the rest of the game with an ice pack on her lower leg.
Without her make-up speed in the back, Harrison (21-0-2) got some dangerous second-half runs in the box but all of the shots were saved or went wide with pressure from North goalkeeper Michelle DeMaris, who made eight saves.
Starters Krissy Tamburo and Taylor Burns also missed a few minutes late with injuries.
"I definitely think we stepped it up in the back (after Groth's injury), we had to," DeMaris said.
Despite the painful ending, the Bulldogs made a great run at a repeat championship overcoming heavy graduation losses. They took an 11-game winning streak into the finals, playing their best soccer late in the season.
They nearly accomplished a repeat that few expected.
"We exceeded all expectations," said Abbi Edwards, one of five North seniors along with Groth, Tamburo, Maggie Grayson and DeMaris. "We did more than we ever thought we could. I'm so proud of our team. It was an amazing season, an incredible experience."
Harrison's goal in the seventh minute came off a short corner kick that freed up an open shot off the near post. The rebound deflected right in front to Haley Pollock, who fired it back for the early goal.
The North players and coaches insisted that the corner kick that Harrison scored off clearly should have been a goal kick.
"The goal they scored I thought it was a questionable call to give them a corner kick," Karen said. "But we still have a job to do to get ready and defend it."
"It definitely wasn't a corner kick," Edwards and DeMaris said in near unison.
The goal didn't completely derail the defending champs though.
North had a strong first half otherwise, holding the majority of the possession and spending the bulk of play on Harrison's defensive third. Though there was just one shot on goal to show for those efforts, the visitors had several quality chances.
Burns had two shots that barely sailed over the crossbar and two crosses toward Lauren Harriman were dangerous, but Harriman was called offsides on the first and she couldn't get to the second, a well-placed ball in front by Jordan Goldring.
As North pushed forward for an equalizer in the second half, it opened up some chances but Harrison never converted. The Bulldogs were depleted more in the attack when outside midfielder Jessica Eberhardt had to drop into the defense to replace Groth. Except for a scramble in front of the goal in the waning moments and a corner kick with 10 seconds left that it couldn't get off before time expired, North had few offensive opportunities in the second half. The only two shots the Bulldogs put toward goal were high attempts by Caroline Gualdoni.
"It was a great season," Karen said. "There are 20 girls on the roster and even the girls who don't play a lot bust their butt in practice to get the starters ready. It was a total effort from all 20 girls on the roster. It's probably the best total team effort we've ever had."
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