Lillian Lawson knew the pressure was coming.Bradley Central's gladiatrix fought in front of goal with all her might, while her supporting cast also came through to put the program one win away from …
Lillian Lawson knew the pressure was coming.
Bradley Central's gladiatrix fought in front of goal with all her might, while her supporting cast also came through to put the program one win away from its first district championship.
Despite playing with a freshly donned mask to protect her broken nose, Lawson and company formed an impenetrable wall even when crowded close to the back net.
The Bearettes were outshot 21-8, but their junior goalkeeper helped seal a 2-1 victory in the District 5-AAA semifinals over county rival Walker Valley on a mild Tuesday evening on Lee University's soccer pitch Tuesday evening.
"I told myself to keep going and not back down," an exhausted and celebratory Lawson said. "Nothing scares me, honestly. If you work hard for what you want, you will have a great outcome. We have worked hard and never given up."
All three scores came in a nine-minute stretch in the first half with Bradley sophomore Haley Esquinance and junior star Cambree Mayo creating a two score lead by the 19th minute.
As the final whistle sounded with the ball high in the air, the 'Black and Gold' couldn't hide their emotion.
First-year head coach Savannah Edwards found herself at the bottom of a dog pile where she was given a celebratory ice bath.
"From Day 1 we talked about going all out," Edwards said. "We hustled for the full 80 minutes. We did everything we needed to win. I am proud of what these girls did tonight. I will take ice showers all day long."
For the second year in a row Bradley (9-5-2) will play in the district championship, as they will travel to McMinn County (11-2-1) for a 7 p.m. showdown Thursday.
The Lady Cherokees survived a tight contest with a 2-1 victory as well over Ooltewah Tuesday. McMinn won its regular season meeting at Bradley by the score of 4-nil and has only fell to state powers in Knoxville Catholic and Baylor.
"We know when we face good paced teams we have to defend as a unit and have each others backs," Edwards said. "Everyone pushed each other to be the best today. We have to play our game again and make adjustments as the game rolls along."
After falling by a combined score of 12-0 to Walker Valley in their previous two postseason meetings, a win was savored in a budding rivalry.
The Bearettes fell 2-1 in the regular season to the Lady Mustangs, in a game where Mayo was sidelined late with an ankle injury.
"We have been beat by them a lot in the past, but it was our time tonight," said Lawson, who saved 13 shots. "We have been through a long season and a few struggles, but we have learned as a team. Our coaches have pushed us harder than ever."
Even while falling short, the Lady Mustangs' coach is excited what he has seen and for what is to come in the county rivalry.
"It is nice for this series to be competitive," WVHS head coach Nathan Brown said. "I give credit to Savannah and her girls. They have a good program. I am excited for them and hope they do well."
Walker Valley (8-8) had several chances to score, but hard shots were turned away by Lawson and several others just missed to the outside of the posts.
Macy Gibson, Kendall Harris, Ashley Eulo and Ellie Davies all pressured the net with strong runs and kicks, while sophomore Meagan Salazar boomed one to the back left corner in the 21st minute for the Lady Mustangs lone score.
While the reigning district champions fell short, a lesson can be taken from what will be a tough memory according to Brown.
"Everything we go through has a purpose," he said. "Through this process the returning players will remember this and get stronger as well as the girls who are graduating and moving on.
"I am so proud of our seniors. They have led with integrity, honor, passion, purpose and pride. I am proud to have coached them and every girl."
The Bearettes attack was not lights out, but did just enough.
Esquinance lifted a beautiful shot from just outside the far right outer box, her 'trademark' shot according to Edwards, while Mayo's roller to the far left a few minutes later bounced away from the keeper and crossed the line.
Walker Valley keeper Miriana Patel gave her team a shot for a comeback with a lock down second half, but Lawson was just so herself.
"Lillian has the heart of a champion," Edwards said. "She works hard for what she wants. She. has an intensity and focus I don't have to teach. In her third year for us she has been phenomenal."
Bradley will now try and create history with its first district championship within sight.
Edwards will look for the continued leadership from several players, including captains Anna Stouffer, Reagan Harrold, Wendy Mendez, Chelsea Myers and Maddie Tennant.
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