Early goal sinks Mill Creek 1-0

KENNESAW -- After much controversy over the previous two days, Mill Creek got the earlier starting time it wanted for its Class AAAAA girls soccer state quarterfinal game with Harrison.

But it was the host and No. 2 state-ranked Hoyas who got the quicker start as Jessica Sperry's goal less than two minutes in proved to be the difference in Harrison's 1-0 win Saturday at Bruce Cobleigh Stadium.

It was an emotional end, not only for the seventh-ranked Hawks' (14-5-1) season, but to a 48-hour span that saw much attention paid to the game's starting time and efforts to move it earlier on Saturday avoid conflict to Mill Creek's prom later in the day.

"I don't think it was a distraction," Hawks coach Brent Leitsch said. "We got it resolved fairly early in the day Friday. So, we pretty much adjusted. We knew what we were facing. The girls were just happy to be here at 1 (o'clock). ... Unfortunately, it just didn't go our way."

Harrison (14-4-1), which advanced to take on Northview in Wednesday's semifinals, took steps to make sure it wouldn't be the Hawks' day when a bouncing ball in the middle just outside the 23-yard arc provided the Hoyas with a prime early scoring chance.

Mill Creek goalkeeper Rachel Allred charged off her line to provide the last line of defense but got a hand on the ball outside the penalty area to give Harrison a free kick at the top of the arc.

Allred then made the initial save on Monica Herrera's hard shot on the restart, but couldn't corral the rebound, and Sperry raced in and got to it first and popped it under the crossbar to put Harrison up 1-0 just 1:57 after the opening kickoff.

"It was a relief to get one early," Harrison coach Steve Riccard said. "And we were able to do some other things off that one goal. It gives you a little more flexibility to move people around and do more things."

From the Hawks' perspective, Sperry's goal put them on the defensive, and they had a hard time getting the ball out of their own end of the field until nearly midway through the first half, when they began to generate some scoring chances off set pieces.

Nicole Ruggieri sent a free kick from 40 yards out in the 15th minute, but the shot sailed just over the crossbar.

Then about five minutes later, Mill Creek had another chance when Cortney Emmert's corner kick from the left wing made its way into the box, where Megan Hatfield managed to deflect it on goal.

But Harrison goalkeeper Allison Leone was in position to make the save and keep the Hoyas in front.

"We knew (Harrison was) very good defensively and it was going to be tough to score on them," Leitsch said. "So giving up the early goal was putting us behind the eight ball. We pushed. We got some chances. We just didn't take advantage of them, and they took advantage of theirs."

The Hawks then suffered another blow late in the half when Emmert got stuck in the artificial turf and had to be helped off the field on a golf cart with a knee injury. She returned to the bench in the second half, but on crutches and with a large splint on her leg, and was unable to return to action.

Still, Mill Creek had a chance to pull even in the game's 59th minute, when Lora Bruce controlled a bouncing ball in the middle and sent a high lob from about 40 yards out toward the goal.

The high-arcing shot sailed over the outstretched arms of a leaping Leone, but also sailed just inches over the crossbar to keep Harrison in front 1-0.

And the Hoyas defense was able to limit the Hawks' chances the rest of the way and punch their ticket to the semifinals.