A slight defensive hiccup with minutes to play downed the Jackson County girls’ soccer team Tuesday in Bogart as North Oconee captured a key victory between the region rivals.
The no. 8-ranked Titans defeated the no. 6-ranked Lady Panthers 3-2, despite an intense JCCHS surge in the second half.
Behind 2-0 early, Sydney Baird led JCCHS in mounting a comeback late in the opening half. Her corner kick resulted in a Brianna Manculich deflection into the net to put Jackson County on the board and make the score 2-1 at the break.
The Lady Panthers’ strong effort continued in the second half. Katie Phillips fought off several defenders for a shot about 15 yards out to tie the game at 2-2 with 22 minutes left to play.
But the momentum stalled as the Titan tandem of Erin Roche at midfield and Jessie Denney at striker increased their pressure.
The two combined for North Oconee’s three goals, with Denney nailing the game-winner on a ball that skirted past a line of JCCHS’ defenders whose coverage collapsed to one side of a goal suddenly open with three minutes left to play.
“They were a good team, really good in the midfield and solid on defense,” JCCHS coach Joe Ridgway said. “It was just a battle, a classic top-10 battle that felt like a playoff game, no doubt about it. There was a lot of emotion. It was a hard-fought win and a hard-fought loss. I’m proud of the girls. We played at the top of our game.”
The win gives North Oconee (7-2-2) command of region 8-AAA for the moment.
The Titans are undefeated (4-0) against conference opponents with three teams remaining on their schedule, including rival Oconee County, ranked at no. 9, according to the eurosportscoreboard.com poll soccer coaches use as a reference.
For Jackson County, the loss to North Oconee makes the stretch of region games April 12-19 critical in keeping the Lady Panthers’ state playoff hopes afloat.
Out of those opponents, JCCHS’ tallest challenge also will be Oconee County (5-5-1, 3-0), which remains undefeated in region play and now sits in the no. 2 spot. JCCHS and OCHS play each other at 5:30 p.m. April 12 in Panthers Stadium.
The top four in the region advance to the Class AAA state playoffs, which means JCCHS must win the contest as well as those against East Jackson Comprehensive High School (April 16) and Morgan County (April 19) to control its fate and host a first-round game, at the least.
“We want to win out,” Ridgway said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS
The Lady Panthers’ game Tuesday stands out in contrast to last week’s results. JCCHS continued to sail through its schedule with wins against Chestatee (6-0) on March 19 and Elbert County (10-0) on March 22.
Ridgway said he was impressed with his team’s effort against Chestatee, which is ranked no. 9 in Class AAAA.
“It was a great team win, we had some young girls step up and play great due to two of our starters being out,” he said. “I was proud of the way we played. We had a tough opponent and were able to add to a 2-0 halftime lead with strong play up top. Our defense played lights out and was able to stop a very strong offensive attack by Chestatee to get the shut out.”
JCCHS’ next game is 7:30 p.m. April 8 at Winder-Barrow High School.