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Bring on Stratford!

The Lady Knights mob leading scorer Casey Kincheloe after she scored her third goal during Wednesday's 5-2 victory against Westminster in the GISA Class AAA Final Four. The win means DWS will play Stratford for the state title May 11.

The Lady Knights mob leading scorer Casey Kincheloe after she scored her third goal during Wednesday's 5-2 victory against Westminster in the GISA Class AAA Final Four. The win means DWS will play Stratford for the state title May 11.

ALBANY — Deerfield-Windsor girls soccer coach Aly Joslin paused and let the last four years roll through his mind.

Four years of losing to the bigger guys, of being good but not quite good enough, of being almost there.

Then Joslin glanced at the scoreboard at Webb Memorial Stadium as the final seconds ticked away in the GISA Class AAA state semfinal game against defending state champion Westminster on Wednesday.

“It was 5-2, and it felt unreal,” Joslin said. “I looked around at the crowd. I looked at the environment and where we were. (A state championship) has obviously been a goal for four years, a goal for these seniors.”

And now the Lady Knights are one win away from becoming the first DWS soccer team to win that title.

Deerfield got three goals from senior leader and reigning Herald Player of the Year Casey Kincheloe and pulled away late in Wednesday’s semifinal to win, 5-2, and advance to the May 11 state championship game against Stratford Academy in Macon.

It was a moment that had been building since Joslin took over the program four years ago with a crop of freshmen that included captains Kincheloe and Bailey Weed.

“I have been waiting to get here the whole time,” said Weed, a midfielder who has been a major part of the program since she was in eighth grade. “We have always been a competitor, but we never executed like we could. And this year we came out with the right mindset where we wanted it.”

The four-year wait made the victory that much sweeter.

“This means everything,” said Kincheloe, who upped her school-record career goal total to 117. “Soccer has been my life ever since I was 4 years old, and this is a huge accomplishment. That clock hitting zero was the greatest moment ever. I found my team, and we just celebrated together.”

Kincheloe got things started with a shot on goal 20 seconds in the game and attempted five more shots in the next 14 minutes before finally finding the back of the net with 16:15 left in the first half to give DWS a 1-0 lead. Westminster’s Christina Rentas tied it with a goal four minutes later, but Kincheloe had an answer with 7:42 left in the half when she fought off Westminster’s Nina McCallie in the box and broke loose for her second score on an assist from Kendyll Freeman.

The Lady Knights (16-3) have now won 10 games in a row. And it didn’t take Westminster long to find out why: Casey Kincheloe.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without her,” Weed said of Kincheloe. “Everyone brings something to the team, but she is the one who scores the goals and that’s what wins games.”

Kincheloe delivered two goals in the first half despite being man-marked by a physical Westminster defense, but she picked up a yellow card 13 seconds before halftime, making Joslin change his second-half gameplan. If Kincheloe picked up a second yellow card in the second half and got ejected, then not only would the Lady Knights be down to 10 players for the rest of the game, but Kincheloe wouldn’t be allowed to play in the championship if DWS won.

“At that stage it was only 2-1, and if anything silly had happened and she got sent off then we would have been down to 10 players,” Joslin said. “It would have changed the game completely. If she would have gotten that second yellow card, I don’t even know if we would have been able to (win).”

The Lady Knights started the second half with Kincheloe on the bench, but Casey’s younger sister, Haley, picked up the slack with a goal 1:45 after halftime when she dribbled once to her left at the top of the box and then punched the ball into the corner of the frame.

“It just goes to show the strength and depth of our squad,” Joslin said. “We have 21 players, and anybody can step on the field.”

Westminster’s Anna Plunkett cut Deerfield’s lead to 3-2 a minute after Haley Kincheloe’s goal by scoring on a perfectly placed 40-yard penalty kick.

Casey Kincheloe remained on the sideline for much of the second half as DWS clung to a 3-2 lead, but the Lady Knights’ leading scorer returned to the field with 15:20 left and in less than three minutes gave Deerfield an insurance goal.

“That was important,” Joslin said. “(Forward) Cheyenne Colvin is a very good player and did her job (with Kincheloe out), but Casey brings a change of pace.”

Colvin, a sophomore, then put the game away with Deerfield’s fifth goal with 5:25 remaining, scoring on an assist from Freeman.

Next week’s championship game sets up a rematch of the March 9 regular season game between Deerfield and Stratford, which the Lady Eagles won, 7-0. Stratford is 17-0 this season and has outscored opponents 157-10, but Joslin thinks his team’s recent trend of facing the giants and winning will continue.

“We have beaten two of the top four teams in the state, and we have played well,” Joslin said, referring to the quarterfinals win against Mount de Sales and Wednesday’s win against Westminster. “Why can’t we beat Stratford?”