Photo: Southside High’s Hallie-Kate Smith (7) pushes the ball away from Montgomery Academy’s Bae Corley during the Lady Panthers’ 2-1 loss in the Class 4A/5A girls soccer championship match last Friday (May 10) in Huntsville. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Southside High girls soccer team finally ran into an opponent that found a way around the Lady Panthers’ near-impenetrable defense.
After not allowing a goal since a 2-1 loss to Homewood on Feb. 25, Southside (21-3) gave up two to Montgomery Academy in what eventually became a 2-1 loss in the Class 4A/5A championship match last Friday (May 10) at John Hunt Park in Huntsville.
The Lady Eagles (20-1-1) scored the above goals in the match’s first 25 minutes to take a 2-0 lead into halftime.
Brooke Horne notched the first goal at the 7:18 mark, ending 36 consecutive periods by Southside without allowing a goal as well as 18 straight shutout wins.
Hayes Jenkins pushed through the eventual winning goal on a pass from Tara Katz at 25:07 of the first period.
Southside head coach Tiffany Cargill admitted after the game that her squad spent much of the first half chasing the ball while Montgomery Academy maintained possession.
“The momentum was different than what we’d been exposed to throughout the season, and it was a different style of play than what we’d seen. It got our players out of position, which obviously exposed some deficits. It allowed for [Montgomery Academy] to exploit our defense and midfield and eliminate our offense.”
But the Lady Eagles would not score over the final 40 minutes. Instead, the Lady Panthers took the initiative following intermission, pressuring the Montgomery Academy defense while getting off at least three shots on goal in the early minutes of the second half.
‘I basically told them [at halftime] that the first half is not how we play,” said Cargill. “I told the girls that they had to play better.”
The Lady Panthers’ newfound pressure paid off with a little over 20 minutes remaining when senior Hallie-Kate Smith scored on a header off a corner kick by Rebecca Johnson. But Montgomery Academy tightened up down the stretch to secure its third straight state title. The Lady Eagles won the class 1A/3A championships in 2017 and 2018.
“I thought we did the best that we could in the second half, but we unfortunately, it just didn’t pan out for us in the end,” said Cargill.
It was Southside’s second loss over the past three years in the state title match.
The Lady Panthers lost to Chelsea, 2-0, in 2017. Southside lost to John Carroll Catholic on penalty kicks last season in the state semifinals.
Cargill acknowledged that Montgomery Academy’s speed was a major factor in the match’s outcome.
“They were quick off the ball and we just didn’t move as quickly as they did. I think it would have been a different game if we had gotten our first balls a little quicker.”
Southside keeper Savanna Blackwell made eight saves.
“I told the girls (after the match) that I was proud of them and that we had a great season until this point,” said Cargill. “But it was a rough way to end the season.”
In the state semifinals on May 9, Smith, Anna Motley and Grayson Carter each scored a goal in Southside’s 3-0 victory over St. John Paul II Catholic. The Lady Panthers finished with a 19-to-1 advantage in shots on goal.
In five playoffs games, Southside outscored the opposition by a 26-2 margin. For the season, the Lady Panthers outscored opponents 151-10, including 134-0 during its shutout stretch.
Cargill shared that Friday’s loss was tougher to swallow than the team’s previous state title setback.
“We were more versatile and talented this year, and these girls have an abundance of heart. They just had a hard time of harnessing that today.”
Cargill was appreciative of what her senior class of Smith, Johnson, Blackwell, Motley, Savanna Knighten, Caroline Prince and Alexis Thompson brought to the program over the past several years.
“This is so much bigger than soccer for what they’ve accomplished. These girls fought through battles that people don’t know about. Soccer was their outlet, and I’m going to miss their heart, their determination, their leadership and their willingness to be out here.”
This article was supplemented by ahsaa.com