By Maurice Patton
FRANKLIN – As long as Spring Hill was forced to play defense Tuesday night, veteran Lady Raiders coach Robert Walker knew it was just “a matter of time” before his unit cracked just enough under the pressure applied by District 11-AA regular-season titlist Page.
With about eight minutes remaining in the opening half of their tournament semifinal contest, that crack came – and the Lady Patriots slipped through, with Kate Nelson scoring the only goal the hosts would need in an eventual 3-0 victory.
The win pushes Page (11-2-3) into Thursday’s district tourney championship game against Murfreesboro Central, which defeated Nolensville 2-1 on penalty kicks in the other Tuesday semifinal.
“They were able to compress us,” Walker said after his team finished a 5-4 season. “They got on top of us and we were on our heels. (But) give them credit. They put us on our heels. We didn’t run back their voluntarily.”
In a season wracked by COVID issues and injuries, Spring Hill – which advanced to the tournament semifinals with a 4-0 victory Thursday over Giles County – was down five starters from its season opener.
The personnel struggles didn’t help against a potent Page squad.
“They’re a really good team,” Walker said. “They can make a good team look bad.
“Our girls played hard. We hit the crossbar twice. If one or two of those go in, it may be a different look.”
Page spent most of the first half deep in its offensive end of the field, getting off a couple of corner kicks that the Lady Raiders were able to fend off with a scrappy defense and the heady play of freshman goalkeeper Olivia Huffman.
“It’s stressful,” Huffman said. “You don’t want to make a wrong decision to hurt the team.
“It’s a learning experience. But you’ve got to keep going. You can’t drop your head.”
“She’s good,” Page coach Nate Clapp said regarding Huffman, who made a couple of key stops in the opening half and at least two more in the second 40 minutes. “She had some really good moments where if she didn’t hold onto the ball, we’d have had more. She definitely kept them in the game with a few plays.”
But four minutes after Nelson scored just inside the left post, Riley Kate Collins doubled the hosts’ lead with a score off the left side, and Page held a 2-0 advantage going into intermission.
“We were finding good space behind and between their defenders,” Clapp said. “We knew it was coming. We just needed a little quicker anticipation. As soon as we did that, we scored two.”
From there, Spring Hill struggled to create any offensive opportunities, and the Lady Patriots added an insurance goal with Kate Brzica converting off a missed shot 10 minutes into the second half.
With the three-goal cushion, Clapp was pleased at the way his team closed out the contest.
“They threw all their fast players up front, tried to push forward,” he said. “Our defense played well when they needed to. You can lose focus in situations like that. They didn’t.”
For Walker, meanwhile, an unprecedented campaign came to an end.
“It’s been a struggle,” he admitted. “We had no continuity – one step forward, two steps back. I’m a control freak; I like to ‘know’. But through it all, the girls have been resilient, and the parents, too. We had to go to Plan B on several occasions. The girls and parents have stepped up better probably than the coach.
“I’m anxious for next year to get started, maybe with some normalcy about it.”