By Jeff Nations
QUICKSBURG -- Derek Hartwig worried that his Stonewall Jackson girls soccer team wouldn't be at its best on Monday.
Faced with a witheringly hot day and playing out of their routine due to the Memorial Day holiday, the Generals might have been tempted to overlook Strasburg in the Conference 35 quarterfinals.
The Rams provided a splash of proverbial cold water on a scorching day, scoring the game's first goal and pushing Stonewall Jackson early before the Generals regrouped to notch a 4-3 victory and move on to today's semifinals against Clarke County.
Strasburg (3-14) served notice that they weren't about to roll over just 10 minutes into the game, when freshman Amelia Guthrie darted to a through ball in the box from teammate Keely Zizzi and hit a high rising shot past Stonewall goalkeeper Jessica Pechie.
Stonewall Jackson (7-9) shook off the Rams' initial onslaught and evened the score with 17:53 left in the first half. Allison Singleton sent a through ball into the penalty area, where junior Ally Hepner was waiting. Hepner took off on a run down the right side, drawing out Rams goalie Haley Bischoff before knocking in a goal.
"Once we really click and get the momentum going, it really happens for us," Hepner said. "To get that opening goal and tie it was thrilling, and they just kept coming from there. I think once we get a step up, we keep going up."
Six minutes later, the player Hepner replaced in the starting lineup got her first goal of the day. Brittany Singleton, who missed last Friday's game with an ankle injury that forced Hepner to move up from her usual starting midfield spot, made an impact in her return. Taking a through ball from Allison Singleton, Brittany Singleton split a pair of defenders, sidestepped the onrushing Bischoff and punched a shot into the open goal to put the Generals ahead.
"It's been a rough past two games," Singleton said. "Our starters have been really messed up because I have an ankle injury, so it's messing up our starting positions because everyone's shifting and it's taking some getting used to."
Hepner struck again with 2:55 left in the half when Kelsey Kokkonen sent a beautiful cross her way in the penalty area. Bischoff nearly smothered the attempt, but Hepner got off a slow rolling shot that trickled past the Rams keeper and into the net.
"She can play pretty much all over the field," Hartwig said of Hepner. "She capitalized against Luray, and she did really well again today. She's definitely a key contributor up there for us now."
The Rams cut into that lead in the second half, when Guthrie struck for her second goal on a curving corner kick that went off Pechie's hands and dropped into the net for a goal with 29:24 to play.
The Generals got some breathing room with 17:12 to play, when Emily Jordan sliced through the penalty box on a run. Bischoff turned back Jordan's shot, but Brittany Singleton was trailing and knocked in the second-chance goal.
"She's always kind of a go-to girl up in the front," Hartwig said of Brittany Singleton, a sophomore. "She's got the speed, she's got the smarts. I didn't want to play her as much as I did."
The Rams simply wouldn't quit, and Guthrie notched her hat trick in stoppage time with a pinpoint long ball goal. Strasburg coach Katherine Klus was happy with the way her young team started and finished -- not so much with the middle, though.
"I feel like we started off strong and we finished strong, but that middle hour we just didn't play efficiently and didn't read the game well," Klus said. "The space was there and the opportunities were there, we just were not monopolizing on that."
Stonewall will face Clarke County in Berryville at 6 p.m., with a trip to next week's Region 2A East tournament on the line.
"This hard-fought game is going to take a lot out of us for [today] when I really wanted to go under full power, but I think if we come out and play like we can play -- possess the ball and win the ball -- I think it's going to be a really good game for both teams," Hartwig said.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>