Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan South Gwinnett senior goalie Mallory Sayre (6) makes a save during warm-ups prior to high school girls soccer action against Dacula at Dacula High School on March 13, 2012.
The game could easily have been out of reach after 15 minutes.
Dacula could easily have been up 3-0 on South Gwinnett in their region opener last week.
If not for goalkeeper Mallory Sayre.
The senior already had stopped three sure goals midway through the first half.
Then she raced out, slid and punched the ball from the foot of Dacula's Sydney Thomas on a breakaway with 13 minutes still to play in the half.
That one drew several "good save" comments from the Dacula fans.
Sayre smacked away another try by Thomas, once again charging in steps ahead of the defense, two minutes later.
Less than a minute after that, Sayre was finally beaten by Makayla Clack.
Dacula won the game 1-0.
Sayre broke down afterward. Despite having made more than two dozen saves. Many of them spectacular.
She pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up and tucked her chin into her chest.
Her teammates hugged her. Assured her the loss wasn't her fault.
Soon they turned to humor, finally joking Sayre out of her tears.
"I hate losing," she said, her icy blue eyes leaving no mistake about the sentiment.
No one but Sayre ever thought she was the reason the Comets lost.
"We had like 27 shots," Dacula head coach Jason Guzzardo said. "(Sayre) made some good saves. She always does. It always ends up being a tight game with South Gwinnett."
That's in great part due to Sayre, who has been devoted to soccer since she started playing at 4.
"She keeps us in games," South head coach Brian Emsley said. "(The game against Dacula) can't be a more clear example of what she does for this team. Not only leadership-wise, but as a player, a person, as a role model.
"She gives us a chance to win."
South started slowly this season, but reeled off three straight wins before falling to Dacula. The Comets' goal remains to earn a state playoff berth -- something the program hasn't done in Sayre's lifetime.
"We definitely had our ups and downs as a team," Sayre said. "We got through that and started playing together and formed a much stronger bond."
The familial atmosphere is what Sayre loves about playing for South. It's why she stayed. Other programs in Gwinnett have come calling. In an age where prep players can essentially be recruited to change schools, Sayre stuck with the Comets.
"I love my team to death," said Sayre, emphasizing the last two words. "It's so much fun when we're all together. And of course I love my coach.
"(I stayed) for my team. Other schools are so serious about it and I just like to have fun with soccer."
Her club season, where Sayre won state championships in 2008 and 2010, is intense enough. Which doesn't negate Sayre's intense desire to win for South. The Comets' heart and soul, Sayre is also their vocal leader.
"She tells people where to go -- and if they don't, they'll hear it," Emsley said. "She organizes in the back, but she also picks them up. I'm just truly blessed to have known her for four years. I couldn't be more proud of her. She's a great kid. She's a great player. She's one of those ones that's irreplaceable. It's rare to have someone who's been with the program for four years and she's just gotten progressively better and better. Her teammates love her."
Sayre has started all but one or two games for South since she was a freshman. She's been team MVP and an all-county selection the last three years -- and certainly will be again as a senior.
She was 8-AAAAA all-region as a junior. She has made 115, 150 and 135 saves in her first three seasons with South."In my opinion, she's the best player to come through South in at least the last six years," Emsley said. "Maybe more. I don't know if the school keeps records, but if they did, she probably would have broken every one of them.
"It just does great things for our program. We finally have someone that came and stayed. She came on as a freshman, played all four years on varsity, and that's rare. You only get one or two, at least at South.
"She is the most talented goalkeeper we've ever had. By far."
Sayre is also the first female player at South in eight years to sign a college scholarship. She's headed to North Georgia this fall.
"It's rare to get someone with her talent," Emsley said. "That's not just goalkeeping. That's ball skills, passing, receiving, trapping. Your basic soccer skills, she's on another level.
"You see that watching her club games. She's just as good, if not better, at the club level. North Georgia's got a great player. They're very lucky."