Grayson strikes early to down East Coweta in restarted girls soccer semifinal | PHOTOS

Grayson celebrates the win over East Coweta on Thursday night to advance to the Class AAAAAA state championship. (Photo: Craig Cappy)

Grayson celebrates the win over East Coweta on Thursday night to advance to the Class AAAAAA state championship. (Photo: Craig Cappy)

LOGANVILLE — After learning Grayson’s rain-delayed Class AAAAAA semifinal game with East Coweta would pick up at the point that play was stopped and not re-started, Rams coach Terry Klinect knew the remainder would turn into a sprint instead of a marathon.

Fortunately for the Rams, they were able to get out of the starting blocks quicker, and held off the visiting Indians’ late finishing kick to hold on for a 4-3 win Thursday at Grayson Community Stadium.

Chelsea Norton’s goal just over two and a half minutes into the second half turned out to be enough to send top-ranked Grayson (21-0-1) into Saturday’s state championship game against second-ranked Harrison at Kennesaw State University.

And Klinect made his team aware that getting the early advantage coming back after having the game delayed a day by lightning with the Rams leading 3-2 with 1:09 left in the first half was a priority.

“I told (the players) before the game, ‘The first goal coming back (Thursday) was going to be crucial because they (East Coweta) either tie us or we go ahead (two goals),’” Klinect said. “That’s a key point coming out when you’ve got a game where you’re only playing 41 minutes. It’s a challenge.

“It was tough game for both teams (Wednesday) night with the rain and late night and coming back. It was even tougher for (the Indians) having to drive home and come back out here.”

After the brief runoff of the remaining first-half time, it didn’t take long into the second half for Grayson to give itself the breathing room Klinect was looking for.

Brittney Bennett send a hard shot into the stiff breeze from about 30 yards out that Indians goalkeeper Sam Hoffman was able to stop.

But the rebound bounced well out into the penalty area, where Norton pounced on it and slammed it into the net before Hoffman could get to it, extending the Rams’ lead to 4-2 with 37:25 remaining.

“Always follow the shot,” Norton said of her ninth goal of the season. “I kind of read (Bennett’s shot) and saw that it might rebound. So, I wanted to go in for it just in case

“(The two-goal lead) was so big because we got the upper hand … and it got us going.”

But even after a couple of East Coweta shot attempts went off line as the clock ticked down, the Indians (15-6-1) kept pressing, and finally broke through to pull closer in the game’s 69th minute.

A throw-in from right wing came into the middle to Ashton Rohrschneider, who sent a pass ahead to Serenity Waters into the top of the penalty area.

The senior then sent a pop-up over the head of a charging Cadye Picklesimer, who had come off her line, and into the net to cut the Grayson lead to 4-3 with 11:30 still left.

“They began to really come at us,” Klinect said of East Coweta. “We knew that they were a team that just doesn’t give up. They’re scrappy. They’re a good team. They work hard, and we when they got that goal, I was nervous.”

But the Rams put Klinect’s nerves to rest by controlling territory most of the rest of the way, including scoring chances from Jennifer Westendorf and Amanda Baker, before the final seconds finally ticked away to send them to their first state finals appearance since sharing the AAAAAA title with Parkview in 2007.

“It”s just fantastic,” said Klinect, who was an assistant coach with the ’07 co-championship team. “It’s rewarding as a coach and rewarding for the players. It’s amazing to see the work rate they’ve put in and the fruits they got from it.”

As happy as the Rams were, the Indians were just as disappointed, though coach Chris Luppens said his players had every reason to feel proud of pushing the state’s top-ranked team to the limit.

‘“They faced a formidable opponent (Thursday) night,” Luppens said. “Grayson’s an excellent team. We gave them all we had and had opportunities, but didn’t capitalize on them and ended up on the short end of the stick.”

“I can’t be any more proud of the young ladies and the way they performed. … I have a special group of seniors, … and it’s kind of surreal it’s over. … In a 4-3 game, I think we earned respect.”