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Lady Eagles win, reach first GISA title game

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

MACON -- Maura Milliron still had tears in her eyes -- before and after tears at that.

"I cried a little before I took the shot, and I cried a lot after I took the shot,'' she said.

Go ahead and cry -- cry all the way to the state title game. That's where Milliron and Terrell Academy's girls soccer team is headed Saturday, thanks to one tear-jerking comeback after another in a sudden-death penalty kick victory, 2-1, against Strong Rock Christian in the GISA Class AA state semifinals on Tuesday night in Macon, thanks in part to some amazing saves by goalie Millie Foster.

Now it's on the GISA state title game, a place Terrell Academy has never been before.

"We made history,'' said first-year coach VeAnn Farr, who took over after TAE started the season at 0-1. The Lady Eagles are 8-1-1 since, including a three-game march through the playoffs that leads team to a 5 p.m. showdown Saturday for it all against defending state champ Frederica.

The Lady Eagles had been to the Final Four (back in 2008) but never the title game, and it took Milliron's bullet that sailed past a diving Allison Stanford and into the left corner of the net to send the Lady Eagles there, lifting them to the win that took 100 minutes of play on the field, a five-shot first round of penalty kicks and finally a kick save and Milliron's game winner.

But there was so much more than that single bullet.

Foster should get a game ball, a game net and the rest of the week off. The junior goalie saved 16 shots in regulation, then saved Terrell Academy's season in the PKs, first by making enough saves in the first round to keep hope alive for the Lady Eagles, who fell behind, 3-0, in the five-kick format.

That meant TAE's last three kickers all had to score and Strong Rock, which had pelted the goal all night, had to miss twice.

The usual suspects came to Terrell Academy's rescue. That's Alex Barfield, Marlee Locke and Foster.

It was Barfield, the same one who hit the game winner in TAE's state basketball title win earlier this year, who kicked in the first goal in PKs. Barfield also scored TAE's only goal in regulation, a chip shot from about 10 yards out that sailed over Stanford's head and into the back of the net with about 33 minutes left in the game. That held up until Strong Rock's Kayla Bailey hit a perfect shot with about 10 minutes left to knot things.

The 1-1 score stayed that way through two 10-minute OTs, which forced the dreaded PKs to decide it, and the two teams were tied after five kickers, sending the game into a sudden death round of PKS.

If you follow this school's athletic program you know it would only be justice to let this team be there in the end. After all, eight of the girls on the soccer team were a huge part of TAE's success in winning state titles in softball and basketball.

And now they'll go for the trifecta on Saturday.

"It would be pretty awesome if that happened,'' said Locke, who kept the season alive with a PK to make it 3-2. Then Strong Rock's final kicker hit the post, leaving the door open, and Foster took off her goalie jersey, and drove home the 3-3 tie to stay alive.

Barfield scored the first PK goal, then came Locke and then Foster.

Then Foster saved it again in the first round of sudden death. Strong Rock's Emily Ebersol's opening kick had Foster beaten, but somehow Foster threw out her left foot at the last second to knock it away.

And suddenly, the season was alive.

Then came Milliron, who said "I was sacred before I took the shot, but so excited when it went in" -- and suddenly the season wasn't just alive, but bursting.

"I've never been a diver,'' Foster said of her foot save. "I just wanted to get something on it.''

It didn't surprise Farr.

"Millie Foster is just that good,'' she said. "She sees the ball. She knows the goal. She's at home there.''

When Milliron blasted in the winner, Farr was in the air.

"I shouted: 'Yes! We did it,' " the coach said. "I wanted this for girls. I wanted it for the school. I'm so excited I don't even have words for it.''

The team celebrated like crazy, dancing and hugging in the middle of the field, but the mood quickly changed when Brittney Spilman, a ferocious defender collapsed after the game. TAE sent for an ambulance and Spilman was rushed to Macon Medical Center.

"It looks like she will be OK,'' Farr said. "It looks like dehydration. You play for 100 minutes in this heat without drinking (much of) anything. But we think she will be fine. I think she will play Saturday."

Spilman is just an eighth grader but she is one of the eight girls who have won the state title in softball and basketball this season.

Now all of them will be back Saturday for a chance to win all three.

"That's a once in a lifetime thing,'' Foster said.