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Lee girls soccer rolls in AAAA state opener

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- No Hatch?

No problem.

That's life these days for Lee County, where Rachel Hatch, the most prolific scorer in this part of Georgia, had to sit out the opening round of the GHSA Class AAAA girls state soccer playoffs with an illness.

So were they worried at Lee County? Not much.

"I knew the girls would step up,'' Lee County coach David Baltenberger said after watching his team beat Griffin, 3-0, to advance to the second round. "We had to make some adjustments, and we played much better in the second half than the first. We had to find a way to compensate for (not having Hatch in the game). But we played well, and scored three goals.''

It seems like everyone knew.

"I wasn't worried because I know we have other girls who can finish,'' said Kelly Polk, who did a bit of finishing herself.

It was a big day for the Polk sisters. Kelly, a senior, scored a goal and also had an assist, and Nicole, a sophomore, scored the first goal of the day.

It was only the second time all season the sisters both scored a goal in the same game.

So how do they celebrate?

"Food,'' shouted Kelly. "We may get to go through the drive-through at Zaxby's."

The Polk sisters usually play back as defenders so the opportunities to score aren't always there, but with Hatch -- the reigning Herald Player of the Year for girls soccer -- sidelined, Baltenberger mixed and matched his kids, looking for a formula that would work. He found it -- and the Polk sisters both found the back of the net.

They joked that all the work they do at home on a trampoline in the backyard has paid off. They like to jump on the trampoline and head the soccer ball back and forth. Honest.

"We do that all the time,'' Kelly said. "And we dribble the ball, too, while we are on the trampoline.''

Lee County's extra work showed Wednesday in a game that appeared to be played on a lopsided field as Lee County controlled everything, especially in the second half when Griffin failed to get a shot on goal.

"They have a lot of talent,'' Griffin coach Jerry Fields said. "Their backfield was excellent. They really played good defense, and they headed the ball better than any team we've seen all year.''

And even with a Hatch-less offense, Lee County managed to score three goals. That number looms even larger considering Griffin (12-3) had allowed only nine goals all season.

Lee County (16-2-1), meanwhile, has only allowed 13, and offensively has now scored 102 goals this season with Hatch (30 goals on her own) netting the bulk of them. Hatch told The Herald after the game she's not sure whether she will be able to play in the second round next Wednesday against the winner of the Evans/Effingham County game.

"I'm going to see the doctor (today), and see if I can play next week,'' said Hatch, who had little fun watching instead of playing.

It's not just next week, it's Round 2 of the playoffs, where the Sweet 16 that has been anything but sweet for Lee County. This isn't just a hurdle. This is a mountain for the Lady Trojans, who have yet to win a second-round game.

"It's been forever,'' Baltenberger said. "We've never done it. To win the next round would be historical.''

It's the ultimate goal around Lee County, where the third round would look like nirvana.

"That's been our goal all year, to get past the second round,'' Kelly Polk said. "That's what we've been working for, to be the first Lee County team to make it to the third round.''

It looked too easy at times on Wednesday in Leesburg, where the Lady Trojans wore home white uniforms. It was so lopsided that Lee County's goalkeeper Ashley Law only touched the ball twice all afternoon (go ahead and give Law her 13th shutout of the year -- she earned it), and the Griffin goalkeeper was so frustrated at times in the second half she was shouting to her teammates: "Quit leaving (the white team) in the open.'' She even once yelled: "Mark somebody!''

There was no answer for Lindsey Crawford's beautiful corner kick that bent to the front of the net, where Kelly Polk and Brittney Rackley flew to the ball, and Polk sent it home with a body slam shot.

"It hit my stomach,'' Kelly Polk said.

It was that kind of day. Even with the easy victory, they did miss Hatch, who might have turned this one into a mercy rule win.

"It was definitely different with her not being out there," Nicole Polk said. "She normally gets us going.''

It turned out that Carsen Taylor, a freshman, got Lee County going when she made a move up the right side and then sent a slick pass up to Nicole Polk, who drove to the middle and then fired in a 1-0 lead with 9:57 left in the half.

Haley Cimino scored in the opening minutes of the second half when Kelly Polk fought for control at midfield, beat two defenders and sent a pass that left Cimino room to drive. She flew to the left side and left the Griffin goalkeeper looking helpless on a shot into the corner.

"Haley really got us going early in the game,'' Kelly Polk said. "She got me going because she was just playing so hard. Whenever I see a player cutting and hustling for every ball, it gets me fired up.''

Now, if Lee County can just stay fired up -- at least past the next round.

"If we can win next week that would be awesome,'' Baltenberger said.