By Jeff Nations
BERRYVILLE -- Stonewall Jackson's girls soccer team developed a dangerous tendency over the past few games.
Facing sometimes overmatched competition during a four-game winning streak, the Generals found that playing through balls to their dangerous forwards was a profitable endeavor. In Tuesday's Conference 35 semifinals game against No. 2 seed Clarke County, the third-seeded Generals tried the same tactic.
It didn't work at all, as the host Eagles snuffed out the persistent through ball passes to smother Stonewall Jackson's attack as they steadily pulled away for a 6-0 victory.
"When we got here, we were trying to do that too much and we weren't going to beat their defense that way," Stonewall Jackson coach Derek Hartwig said. "They're strong, fast defenders. Emily Jordan is one of our fastest girls out there and she couldn't get past them, so we had to try getting away from that style of play."
Clarke County soon caught on to the Generals' strategy.
"We saw that she was pretty fast, so we just slid our other mark [Lauren Allen] over and just neutralized her," Eagles coach Larry Hart said. "They kept trying to go to it. It was there early, but it wasn't there after we made that switch."
Playing its third game in five days, Stonewall Jackson (8-10) had trouble mustering much offense against the Eagles. The Generals did manage four shots in the first half, but none at all over the final 40 minutes.
The Eagles had no such trouble, getting off nine shots in the first half. Three of them went for goals as Clarke County built a daunting 3-0 halftime lead.
"We were just a little bit sluggish at the beginning," Hart said. "We just kept building all the way through, and then we really got on a nice roll. Once that first one went in, I think that settled them in again."
Clarke County's Emily Deem broke the scoreless tie with 24:46 left in the first half when she chipped rising shot over Stonewall keeper Jessica Pechie for the game's first goal.
The Generals generated their best scoring chance with 15:42 to play in the first half, when Brittany Singleton sent a free kick past the Eagles' wall. Clarke County goalie Jessie Ambrosio was there to make the catch on Singleton's liner for one of her three saves.
Deem struck again with 6:17 left in the first half when her long curving shot tucked inside the left post.
"Emily Deem factors into every game for us," Hart said. "She was first-team all-district for the midfield, and she's just an all-around good player. No matter where you ask her to play, she can play it at a very high level and she makes other people look good. It's hard to find a player who can score and make other people look good."
Clarke County notched one more goal in stoppage time when Hannah Ravenscroft delivered a perfect cross to teammate Sara Flick inside the penalty box for a point-blank goal.
Flick scored again just five minutes into the second half when she followed Deem's run through the penalty area for a second-chance goal after Pechie turned back the initial shot.
Hannah Ravenscroft made it 5-0 Clarke County with 20 minutes to play with a nimble run in the box that she capped with a goal, and three minutes after that Brittney Foster capped the scoring with a 35-yard booming shot that slipped through Pechie's fingers and into the goal.
"By the second half, they got rolling and they just had the momentum, and we just kind of lost our momentum," Hartwig said. "But the first half, they played well but I think our girls could've played with them. This is our third game in five days. Some of my girls are getting a little bit sore and tired."
The Generals had little choice but to play defensively against the dangerous Eagles. Stonewall midfielder Kelsey Kokkonen, normally an offensive facilitator, had to play back nearly the entire match. Dangerous scorer Brittany Singleton still wasn't at 100 percent as she played with the lingering effects of a sprained ankle.
"The girls gave me everything they could," Hartwig said. "We kept playing as much as we could. It just wasn't our night tonight."
Clarke County secured a spot in next week's 2A East regional tournament with the win.
Allison Singleton, one of five seniors on Stonewall's squad, said all in all the Generals had a successful season.
"I'm so, so proud of these girls and they made my senior year so memorable," Singleton said. "We started off kind of rough with such a new team this season, but I'm so proud of the way that we've grown and I think we really did work our butts off all season. I think, overall, it was a really good season."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>