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Lee girls suffer heartbreaking loss in region title game

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- For 72 minutes and 52 seconds, Lee County's girls soccer team held Warner Robins scoreless with a region title on the line.

And when Lady Trojans' striker Carsen Taylor scored with 13 minutes to play off a picturesque feed from fellow sophomore Sarah Sheffield, that elusive region hardware was at hand.

And then the unthinkable happened: The Lady Trojans' defense stopped two corner kicks in the final 30 seconds of the game, only to see Demonette striker Maggie Dimes put the third one in on a header with eight seconds to play, sending the region title game to the first overtime.

"We had it and then ...," Sheffield said before trailing off after Lee County fell, 4-1, on penalty kicks to finish as the Region 1-AAAA No. 2 seed for the second consecutive year.

It was a tough loss to swallow, much less talk about.

"So close, so close," said Lee County head coach Dave Baltenberger, whose team also fell on penalty kicks last season to Thomas County Central in the region championship. "It was just one of those days. This game just seems like it's right there for us."

After two five-minute overtimes didn't provide a goal, the teams went to penalty kicks. Warner Robins found some gas left in the tank, while a deflated Lady Trojans team had none left.

Warner Robins scored on its first three PKs by Erin Hill, Dimes and Alex Clark, while Demonettes goalie Falon Lowery stoned the Lady Trojans on all three free kicks to clinch the region championship.

"We played as good (defensively) as we always play," Baltenberger said. "We just couldn't put it in the back of the net when we had a chance."

Lee County's Taylor saw her penalty kick clang off the post, the third time that happened to her in the game. She had bounced an early open look off the bar and then hit it again on a penalty kick during regulation. Casey Shoenberger also hit the post with 26 seconds left in the first overtime inside the box as a defender aggravated her shot enough to send it wide.

"We did have a lot more opportunities than they did, but they finished," Sheffield said. "It's tough."

The Lady Trojans (11-8) put 16 shots on goal compared to Warner Robins' eight.

"We got outplayed most of the game, but we held on," said Demonettes head coach Phil Daly, whose team beat Thomas County Central on penalty kicks to reach the region title game.

Taylor's score with 13:41 to play appeared to avenge last year's region title loss for the Lady Trojans. Taylor punched it in from close range and then tumbled over the goal keeper for a 1-0 lead. Sheffield made the assist on the play, spinning around a defender near the boundary across midfield then dribbled to the top of the box before hitting Taylor with a perfect touch pass between two defenders.

"I've never done that in a game," Sheffield said. "I don't know how I did it. I was determined to get it to (Carsen)."

After losing the region title last year, Lee County advanced to the Elite Eight in the Class AAAA state playoffs and sees no reason why it can't do it again as a two seed, despite its team being made up of mostly sophomores and juniors.

"There's still more the play for," Baltenberger said. "This is really a rebuilding year. To get this far when we're rebuilding (is an accomplishment)."

Lee County will host the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs Tuesday against an opponent from Region 3-AAAA yet to be determined. And for the second year in a row, they'll have to regroup from a heartbreaking defeat in the region championship.

"We're really going to try," Sheffield said. "We just have to pick ourselves back up and get at it again."