SOCCER: Heritage girls blank Oconee County to move into Elite Eight

May 2, 2019

It’s already been an incredible sports year for female athletic teams at Heritage High School and that trend continued on Wednesday.

The Lady Generals scored twice, once in each half, and advanced to the state quarterfinals of the Class 4A soccer tournament with a hard-fought, and at sometimes incredibly physical, 2-0 home victory over Oconee County.

The visiting Lady Warriors from Watkinsville actually had more time of possession in the match and a few more scoring opportunities than did the Lady Generals. However, an incredible defensive effort by senior keeper Lexi Besh and the Heritage backline frustrated Oconee County and kept them off the board.

“We are ecstatic,” Coach Marina Lima said afterward. “We were very organized at the back and I’m very pleased. Oconee County had a lot of pace outside with their forwards and we dealt with it and kind of shut them down. We played really tough defense and I’m happy with that.”

Heritage connected on its first real good look of the match in the 15th minute. Anna Boley took the ball at the top edge of the 18-yard box and fed it through traffic to Bailey Needham. Needham caught the Oconee County keeper off her line and arched a shot over her outstretched arms to give the home team a 1-0 lead that they would take into halftime.

The second big play of the match came three minutes into the second half when the Lady Warriors were awarded a penalty kick. Sydney Hurst lined up the shot for Oconee, but Besh read it perfectly and dove to her right to make a crucial save.

The next 25 tension-filled minutes would see both teams get solid scoring chances. Sophia Venable just missed on shots in the 46th and 67th minutes, while Oconee County blasted a shot off the crossbar in the 53rd minute. Besh also stonewalled the Lady Warriors in the 58th and 69th minutes.

Heritage would put the game on ice in the 71st minute on an incredible individual effort by Boley. Venable sent a ball over the top of the defense as Boley tried to outrun a defender to the ball. Oconee’s keeper came out to the top right corner of the 18-yard box in an attempt to cover up it up and all three players converged on virtually the same spot on the pitch at virtually the same time.

However, Boley arrived just a half-second faster and, although she was upended on the ensuing and inevitable collision, she was able to get enough of her foot on the ball to send it over the keeper and bouncing into the net before the rest of the defense could get back to prevent it.

“She believed in it all the way to the end and got the ball into the goal,” Lima said of Boley’s effort. “We all went crazy. It was a great goal.”

The Lady Generals’ defense would do the rest as they secured the shutout and advanced the Navy-and-Red into the next round of the postseason.

Heritage (13-3) will play again at home, tentatively on May 7, against Region 1 champion Columbus (19-1). It will be the Lady Generals’ first Elite Eight appearance since 2013.

Meanwhile Columbus, who beat Luella, 12-2, in the opening round, posted a 9-0 win over Mary Persons on Wednesday. The Lady Devils have outscored their opponents this season by a combined 129-10, while their lone loss was a 3-2 setback on the road at Class 5A powerhouse McIntosh back on April 18.

But Lima said she and the team know that their will be no easy matches left on the schedule the rest of the way.

“We’re in the final eight, so things are only going to get tougher,” she added. “We’re just going to work on staying organized in the midfield. That’s the main issue. With all the teams that I have seen, everything tends to stay in the middle and if you have a breakdown there, you might lose the game. We just have to continue to play possession and take it one game at a time from this point.”