Once a team gets to the postseason, nothing comes easy. Everything is earned.
That was certainly the case on Tuesday evening when the Calhoun Lady Jackets overcame a first-half deficit, a second-half equalizing goal by their opponent and a last-second shot on goal that narrowly missed its mark to earn a 3-2 season-extending victory over Maynard Jackson High in the first round of the Class AAAAA State Tournament.
Calhoun (9-8-2) fell behind 1-0 in the first half but rallied to even the game at 1-1 at the half against the visiting Lady Jaguars. The Lady Jackets took a 2-1 lead with a goal shortly into the second half, but once again Jackson (8-7) showed they weren’t going away quietly as they tied it up with a goal five minutes later.
After threatening several more times with offensive chances, Calhoun was able to go ahead for good with a goal in the 66th minute that proved to be the game-winner. Jackson had one final chance as the clock wound down, but a bouncing shot toward the goal went over the crossbar by inches as the final horn sounded to seal the nail-biting win for the Lady Jackets.
“It’s always good, really a huge relief, when you win games like that when it could’ve gone either way,” said Calhoun head coach Taylor Sumrall. “When you win close games like today, it really shows pure grit and determination…Our girls just wanted it more. I’m glad to be able to pull it off and continue playing with this group. Obviously, I would like to have us play better and not be so stressed until the very end, but I’m relieved and really proud of our girls. They deserved to win this game with how hard they fought.”
The game started with Calhoun controlling possession and manufacturing multiple offensive chances early in the first half, including one on a corner kick in the fifth minute that was passed into the box and then shot off the crossbar to barely miss a chance to go up by one on the scoreboard. The Jackson goalkeeper made multiple saves as well to keep the Lady Jackets scoreless.
Jackson dealt the first blow in the 16th minute on a counter-attack that ended in a goal by Ellie Nejedley to give her team a 1-0 lead.
Calhoun didn’t let the lead stand up very long as they continued to attack and control possession, and eventually it paid off as Hannah Dimeler crossed one into the box that deflected off a Jackson defender and into the back of the net to tie the game up at 1-1 in the 24th minute. After a few more chances were unsuccessful, the game went into the break all even.
The Lady Jackets employed the same strategy to start the second half as they gained possession of the ball and didn’t allow Jackson very many opportunities to have the ball for a long stretch. Calhoun grabbed the momentum in the 46th minute as Joanne Garcia corralled the ball in the box off of a scramble and sent it past the Jackson goalkeeper to give her team a 2-1 lead.
The Lady Jaguars showed their own toughness and returned the favor to tie the game in the 51st minute when Nejedly once again found the back of the net for a goal to make it 2-2.
The teams battled back and forth from that point on, but Calhoun gained the upper hand for good when Kiara Fernandez finished a clutch goal off a nice assist from Kennadi Morgan in the 66th minute to make it 3-2. The Lady Jackets’ defense held on from there as Jackson continued to threaten but was unable to convert a would-be equalizer, including the shot in the final seconds that crept over the crossbar.
“(Jackson) was a very good team,” said Sumrall. “They are fast, technically sound and aggressive. For our girls to be able to fight back twice, the first time going down one goal and then again in the second half when they tied it up, it really shows what we can do and what kind of mindset our girls have. We need to start faster so we don’t have to come back, but sometimes that happens. I just told the girls to keep shooting and keep moving the ball. We haven’t been able to finish goals lately so hopefully three goals tonight will give our girls some confidence to be able to finish more going forward.”
Despite allowing two goals, the Calhoun defense played a solid game, including goalkeeper Tatum Ballinger recording eight saves.
The win pushes Calhoun into the second round of the Class AAAAA State Tournament where they will visit St. Pius X, the No. 1 seed and region champion from Region 5-AAAAA, on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
“We’re excited getting any playoff win, but going up in in classification this season to Class AAAAA, it adds a little extra to show that our program can sustain success even in a new classification.
“We know we will be the underdogs going into the next round (against St. Pius X). We’re just going to go down there, play hard, play our game and hopefully pull off the upset.”