Chattanooga Christian sophomore Hannah Henry had a clear shot at a sure goal about 10 minutes into the second half of Saturday afternoon's Class A/AA state soccer sectional match at East Hamilton.
But that wasn't the shot that sent CCS to state.
Henry's foot slipped harmlessly past the ball on that play, but with 1:36 remaining in a scoreless game, she found the ball at her feet again. This time, Henry delivered a high, hard shot that headed to the upper corner of the net, banged off the frame and came down inside the goal.
Her score gave the Lady Chargers a hard-fought 1-0 victory and a spot in next week's Class A/AA state tournament.
"Hannah's blast made the difference," CCS coach Cal Sneller said. "If she hadn't scored that one, I know she would've been extremely upset about the one that slipped through. She did a great job moving around for us today."
Region 4-A/AA runner-up CCS had to travel to East Hamilton, the Region 3 champion, to battle for a spot in the state tournament, and the Lady Chargers came out strong for the first half. They dominated most of the play and the possession, and spent much of the period inside the East Hamilton box, but couldn't manage to finish any of their opportunities.
The strong offensive play provided a confidence boost for the Lady Chargers, who had been shut out earlier this week in their region final.
"We knew we had every reason to hang our heads heads in this game, because we didn't score on Thursday," Sneller said. "But the girls showed that if we stay persistent, we can get them. We had a lot of chances in the first half."
Henry's first dangerous scoring opportunity came early in the second half, but the play seemed to even out from then on. After regrouping at halftime, the Lady Hurricanes began creating more chances of their own in the final 30 minutes. Their best opportunity came midway through the period on a shot similar to the one Henry scored on, but officials ruled that the ball came down outside of the line.
"I thought we had a great second half after just hanging on in the first half," East Hamilton coach John Millard said. "We came out very flat and were not adjusting well to the things CCS was was doing. We really could never get out of our defensive half. But after a couple of adjustments, I was very pleased with the second half. We created some chances, and I thought we had one of them, but apparently it didn't go over the line."
Both teams battled their way through the final minutes, and just when it seemed as though overtime was inevitable, Henry came through with a score in the 78th minute. CCS, which has struggled with injuries throughout the season, improved to 14-4-4 and will play a state quarterfinal match at home on Wednesday.
"It's been a battle all year," Sneller said. "We know that we belong, but it's been tough getting back. Just getting to this point is phenomenal for this group of girls."
For the second year in a row, East Hamilton's season ended with a heartbreaking sectional loss at home. This season's defeat may be even tougher for the Lady Hurricanes (16-4-1), who must say goodbye to seniors Chandler Smith, Lauren Thomas and Danielle Branham and then prepare for a move into Class AAA next season.
"Everything that we've accomplished is really a product of our seniors," Millard said. "If you have players who buy into what you're doing and demand more from their teammates, good things are going to happen. I told the girls that I'm proud of them. We had a great season. I think maybe we just peaked too early this year."
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at email@example.com