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Lee County girls soccer pulls upset of Evans, makes history in the process

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUGUSTA -- The championship campaign for the Lee County girls soccer team continues.

The Class AAAA No. 2-seeded Lady Trojans hopped off a bus Wednesday after a four-hour trek to Augusta, dominated the game from start to finish against No. 1 Evans, then hopped back aboard and headed for Leesburg -- complete with a 2-1 upset win and a piece of history.

That's because after Wednesday's monumental win -- which was thanks to goals from Rachel Hatch and Haley Cimino -- the 2010 Lady Trojans now own the distinction of having made it further than any team in the history of soccer at Lee County -- boys or girls.

"Oh, man," began third-year coach Dave Baltenberger as his girls giggled and carried on in the background, "we're excited."

And rightfully so.

But as much as the win will -- in the scorebook, at least -- be credited to Hatch, Cimino and Nicole Polk, who assisted on Hatch's goal, while Hatch assisted Cimino on hers, it was the play of the defense that Baltenberger lauded after the game.

Primarily the play of Polk, her sister, Kelly Polk, Emily Peters and Sarah Sheffield, who anchors the defense as the Lady Trojans' star stopper.

And by the way? Everyone of those defenders but Kelly is a freshman.

"I mean, the defense played great. They really did. It was just one of those games where it felt good from the start," said Baltenberger, whose backcourt made it an easy day on goalie Ashley Law, who only had to stop three shots all day. "As a whole, we controlled the game pretty well, but the defense really controlled it, especially Sarah. She's like a cat back there."

Hatch -- Lee County's Top Cat and reigning Herald Player of the Year for girls soccer -- came through in more ways than one Wednesday, considering she missed the state playoff opener because she was sick and only got cleared to play by doctors against Evans the day before the game.

Baltenberger said Tuesday he would use Hatch -- who had also missed more than a week of practice due to her illness -- sparingly in the game, and wouldn't start her -- and he held to his word.

Unfortunately for Evans' fans, that didn't matter one bit.

With the scored tied, 0-0, 15 minutes into the first half, Baltenberger subbed Hatch in. Less than 10 minutes later, Lee County was ahead, 1-0.

"With about 16 minutes to go in the half, Rachel got this great cross from Nicole and she scored our first goal," the coach said. "But after that, we took her out right away. We wanted to give her an extended halftime break (so she'd be rested) before the second half."

Evans, however, came out and tied the game at 1-1 about 10 minutes after intermission.

Cue Hatch's return.

Less than 10 minutes again after Hatch's arrival, she and Cimino found themselves in a give-and-go situation all the way down the field, until Ciminio saw her chance and scored the go-ahead goal with 10 minutes remaining.

Lee County 2, Evans 1 -- and that's how it would end.

"Haley saw an opening and put it into the back of the net. It was a great shot," Baltenberger said. "And then from there, because there was less than 10 minutes left, we left Rachel in to help shut (Evans) down. She was tired, but she was playing on adrenaline at that point. And after we went ahead, there was no way I was taking her out."

Baltenberger than paused before adding with a laugh: "Heck, I don't think she would've let me."

Hatch has scored 31 of her team's staggering 102 goals this season as the Lady Trojans now get to host the Elite 8 in Leesburg on Saturday after knocking off the No. 1 seed in their bracket. That game will come against another No. 2 seed, Starr's Mill, which -- like Lee County (17-2-1) -- has only lost twice all season.

But unlike Lee County, Starr's Mill owns a state ranking. No. 2, to be exact.

"They're a great team. They won their (Sweet 16 game on Wednesday) 9-to-nothing," Baltenberger said. "But we're just excited about the opportunity and the fact we've made history at Lee County. We always lose before we get to the Elite 8."

But not anymore.

A game time for Saturday has yet to be determined, and you better believe -- like a Friday night in Texas during football season -- the entire town of Leesburg may shut down for this historic occasion.

But in facing the No. 2 team in the state -- with a trip to the Final Four on the line -- one has to wonder: Will the girls be nervous, coach?

"I don't think so because our message is simple: They've got two losses just like us -- and they can be beaten," he said. "Either way, it's awesome just to make it this far."