The Riverside Middle School girls soccer team has given the term "perfect pitch" a whole new meaning.
For the second straight season, the Lady Eagles have been perfect every time they've stepped on the pitch.
Riverside closed the 2002 campaign at home Friday with a 5-0 win over Lakeside Middle School. The Lady Eagles posted a 9-0 record and did not allow a single goal.
The Lady Eagles also went unbeaten and unscored upon in 2001. In the past two seasons, Riverside has outscored its opponents 103-0, and the team has never lost since girls soccer became a sanctioned middle school sport in Columbia County three years ago.
Riverside's tenacious play in Friday's finale kept Lakeside goalkeeper Nicole Lynn busy. She notched 12 saves to keep the score respectable, simply a small consolation during a long day in the net.
"I've had more goal-playing in this game than I ever wanted in my life," she said after being bombarded by 21 shots during the match.
Riverside keeper Emily Brandenburg, on the other hand, had some time on her hands. She didn't have to make a play in the first half, which was nothing new.
"We have to bring her out every now and then so she can actually touch the ball," Riverside coach Merrell Garner said of the untested and well-rested keeper. "The defense is unbelievably strong. They are a huge part of why we are as successful as we are."
Lakeside managed a shot on goal in the second half. Tiffany Rachels lofted a kick toward the far post - the ball had an odd backspin, and turned in an unlikely direction when it hit the turf.
As the ball took a bead on the goal, Riverside's fans gasped, but Emily recovered to record the save.
Still, with a perfect season on the line, the play was a little too close for comfort.
"I do fine until the last game and then there's so much riding on it," Garner said. "Or it seems like so much is riding on it. I didn't want to get scored on."
Later in the second half, Lakeside mounted another offensive run. With the Lady Panthers pushing toward the goal, and with the shutout streak at stake, Garner pleaded, "Get it out of there!"
Riverside defender Sierra Morris responded with a long clear downfield. Devin Newman gathered the ball on a breakaway, split two Lakeside defenders, and scored her fourth goal of the game to cap the perfect season.
Although Coach Garner says her team wasn't clicking on all cylinders Friday, and despite having two players sidelined with injuries, the Lady Eagles displayed a wide array of weaponry - from stellar strikers, to magnificent midfielders, to physical fullbacks.
"This is an extremely talented group of girls. They work hard and they've got soccer on the brain," Garner said. "They don't just play school soccer; they play all the time, and playing year-round makes a big difference."
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