The Columbia County Lady Patriots U-17 soccer team was on the hot seat last weekend, and it had nothing to do with the sweltering temperature on the pitch at Patriots Park.
The Lady Patriots faced the Roswell Santos in a Snickers State Cup qualifying match on Sunday. The winner would earn a spot in the six-team State Cup, which will be played this Friday and Saturday in Columbus.
Columbia County coach Matt Kolinoski already had lined up a hotel for the stay in Columbus, and his squad followed through with a convincing 2-0 win over Roswell.
"We booked the reservations about a month ago," Kolinoski said. "I don't want to say that was overconfidence; in these girls' minds, I think they knew they would come out here and probably have a chance to play next weekend."
Corri Fennell and Rebecca Bohler each tallied first-half goals, and goalkeeper Carty Dunn recorded two key second-half saves to preserve the shutout.
The match was contested in near 100-degree heat, but that didn't dissuade the Lady Patriots from giving 100 percent.
"It wasn't that hard. We've been training for the past three weeks, so we were pretty used to the heat," Fennell said. "We knew it would be more heart than anything else to get through it."
In this case, perspiration and inspiration equally fueled the Lady Patriots.
"The driving force the last two weeks has been knowing that if we didn't win this game, we wouldn't advance," Kolinoski said. "All the hard work and effort we put in during the fall and spring would have been for nothing."
The Lady Patriots capitalized on an early defensive breakdown by the Santos, as Fennell chased down a through-ball and beat the keeper to put Columbia County up 1-0.
"We have a lot of speed throughout our team, but predominantly in our front line," Fennell said. "We try to use that to our advantage."
Later in the first, forward Rachel Hunter faked out a defender, then crossed the ball to Bohler, who hit a winner to make it 2-0.
Columbia County dominated the rest of the match, and could have posted more goals, but shots by Melanie Cook and Susanne Rogers ricocheted off the post. For the match, the Lady Patriots held a 19-7 shooting edge.
"Our passing was pretty precise," Kolinoski said. "We moved the ball up and down the field, played defense and made them chase the ball. A lot of people chipped in an put in the extra effort."
On defense, sweeper Caroline Barrett was solid, and Dunn smothered two point-blank attempts by Roswell.
The Lady Patriots now advance to the State Cup, and one win this weekend would secure a berth in the state final four. Starting center midfielder Erin Sullivan, who did not play against Roswell, returns to action following a week of workouts with the U-16 National team.
Even with Sullivan in Columbus, victories won't be easy - the Lady Patriots open State Cup play Friday with an 8 p.m. match against Gwinnett Soccer Association White. Saturday at 4 p.m., Columbia County takes on GSA Red, the defending national champion in the U-17 division.
"The best teams in the state are competing, so it's a very big tournament," Fennell said. "We'll have to prepare for it physically and mentally, but we have a good chance."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.