CLEVELAND – It wasn’t even the foot Abby Hansford normally kicks the ball with.
But that left foot was the one teammate Paige Manney passed to in the center of the field. Hansford, with an open look from about 25 yards away, let it rip with her non-dominant foot, and the line drive just arced into the net over the outstretched fingers of leaping Cleveland goalkeeper Lauren Stutzman for the only shot on goal of 14 she couldn’t save that night.
The junior reserve midfielder’s winning goal with 6:48 left in the second sudden-death overtime period was about the only pretty sight for McMinn County in a 1-0 win over the Lady Raiders on an ugly Tuesday night with heavy drizzle falling over the Greater Cleveland Soccer Complex.
“I was kind of shocked about that,” Hansford said about her golden goal. “I was asking, ‘Did that really go in?’ I didn’t even realize it got in, and when I saw it did I was like ‘Yes!'”
Asked if her left foot was the one she normally uses, Hansford said with a giggle, “No, not really.”
Coach Brittany Hart called Hansford’s score “phenomenal.”
“I’m glad Abby got it,” Hart said. “Abby works hard, and she was really deserving of that. She didn’t get a lot of time, but coming off the bench that was awesome for her to get a goal.”
With its second District 5-AAA win of the season, McMinn (6-1-1, 2-0 District 5-AAA) is now in the driver’s seat for a top-two seeding for October’s district tournament, with Ooltewah and Walker Valley still to go.
But for 93 minutes, Cleveland (4-5, 0-1) stuck to a defensive game plan that frustrated the Lady Tribe’s efforts to put anything on the scoreboard.
“They were sitting in and had a lot of defenders,” Hart said. “I think at one point they were playing with seven defenders, or at least it felt that way. So basically they were preventing us from getting anything down the middle.”
Yet McMinn continued attacking the middle, according to Hart, doing itself no favors.
“We didn’t help ourselves because we continued to try to force it down the middle,” Hart said. “So if we were able to actually execute what the coaches were telling them and to go outside wide it would’ve stretched their defense. But with us trying to play down the center, they just continued to stay compact and we weren’t able to get in.”
The Lady Cherokees amassed a 29-5 overall shot advantage (14-2 on goal), but many of those shots were either from outside the 18-yard box or under harassment from Cleveland’s defenders, allowing Stutzman to save against the first 13 of the Lady Tribe’s shots on goal without too much effort.
McMinn keeper Kaitlynn Winder saved against both Lady Raider shots on goal.
“Their goalkeeper is good, but the shots we took were just not quality shots,” Hart said. “Until we can learn to shoot more efficiently, it’s just not going to happen for us.”
Hart also said the drizzle, which didn’t start clearing up until near the end of regulation, and the weather-induced lack of practice time the last couple of weeks were factors in McMinn’s offensive struggles, as well.
“Hopefully the rain will get out of our way and we can get back into a routine of practicing,” Hart said. “Obviously we’ll definitely be working on some offense tomorrow.”
Lady Cherokees 1, Lady Raiders 0 (2OT)
The closest two times McMinn came to scoring in regulation happened in the second half, with one a loose ball deep in the 18-yard box off a goalkeeper deflection that a Cleveland defender cleared out just in time, and another a line drive that hit the right post.
Cleveland had a potential game-winning shot 20 yards from the right wing near the end of regulation that sailed just wide of the goal.
With the game a scoreless tie at the end of 80 minutes, it went to two 10-minute overtime periods that were both sudden death. This is a rule exclusive to District 5-AAA, and varies from the TSSAA postseason overtime rules that call for two non-sudden death 10-minute overtime periods, followed by two five-minute golden goal (sudden death) periods.
After the first 10-minute period went without a score, Hansford finally broke through for the Lady Cherokees at 6:48 before the match would’ve gone to a round of penalty kicks.