After several frustrating near-misses Thursday afternoon, East Hamilton's Nicole Ford finally connected on what proved to be a crucial goal for her Lady Hurricanes in the Region 3-A/AA soccer semifinals.
With East Hamilton holding on to a 1-0 advantage in the 45th minute against visiting Grace Academy, Ford fired a shot into the back of the net that extended the lead in a match the Lady Hurricanes went on to win by a 3-1 margin.
The victory puts East Hamilton in position to defend its region title at home Thursday against McMinn Central, which advanced to the championship by beating Arts & Sciences in Tuesday's other semifinal.
"I thought Nicole had an outstanding second half after we moved her to an attacking position," Lady Hurricanes coach John Millard said. "She's been eager to contribute from there, and she came through. The first half was a little frustrating because we were getting a lot of chances, but not enough on goal. We were down there a lot, but we weren't getting anything to show for it, and those are the times when you start to worry. Grace is a well-coached, scrappy team, and we didn't want to give them any opportunities."
East Hamilton, which won its third consecutive District 6-A/AA title last week, got on the board in the 17th minute against District 5 runner-up Grace. Peyton Rauth played a ball to Jordan Kaset, who scored the Lady Hurricanes' lone goal of the first half.
Ford's position switch paid off with several dangerous scoring opportunities in the second period, and she finished one from Kaset to put her team up 2-0. East Hamilton's lead was 3-0 after Chandler Smith scored on an assist from Ford in the 54th minute, but the Lady Hurricanes couldn't hang on to the shutout.
The Lady Golden Eagles put together several scoring chances in the final 25 minutes, but when they could only finish one, Grace's season ended while East Hamilton's was extended at least through Saturday.
"We had some bad decisions and lack of communication in the back that led to a goal," Millard said. "You could see our girls get a little frustrated, and that's when you need the seniors to step in, settle us back down, and help us find our rhythm again. We were able to do that, but it took a little longer than I would have liked."
The win improves East Hamilton's record to 15-3-1, and gives Millard's team the opportunity to play at least two more matches this season. The Lady Hurricanes will host McMinn Central at 4:30 on Thursday for the region title, and the champion from 3-A/AA will host a state sectional match on Saturday while the runner-up will travel.
"It will be tough," said Millard in looking ahead to Thursday's match. "We'll have to be rested and ready for a battle."
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at email@example.com