Rally falls short for Warriors in quarterfinal

STEPHENS CITY – It was nearly a miraculous comeback that would’ve kept the season alive for Sherando’s girls soccer team and sent the Warriors into a Conference 21 West tournament semifinal matchup with James Wood. Instead it was a heartbreaking defeat, a case of a rally coming too little, too late.

The third-seeded Warriors found themselves buried in a three-goal deficit against No. 6 Millbrook in the second half of Thursday’s conference quarterfinal, then rallied for three goals of their own over the final 15 minutes, only to fall just short in a 4-3 loss that ended Sherando’s season.

“A lot of heart,” Warriors head coach Rob Kilmer said. “A lot of heart. Playing four games in four days took its toll. But credit to (Millbrook). They played well. They deserved to win.”

Sherando (7-5-4), coming off a win over the Pioneers (5-12) on Tuesday in what was the second victory in three regular-season meetings with Millbrook this spring, trailed 3-0 before things finally began to turn in the Warriors’ favor with 15 minutes to play. That’s when senior Taylor Fogarty lofted a direct kick from just outside the penalty box that floated over the outstretched arm of Millbrook goalkeeper Laken Nordin and into the upper-right corner of the net to finally put Sherando on the board.

“It just gives you hope,” Kilmer said of the goal. “Normally we don’t wanna hit a soft ball like that. We tell them normally not to place it, we tell them just to hit it. She obviously saw something, so it was a great goal by Taylor to get us back in.”

The Warriors needed just 2½ minutes to score again. Senior striker Melida Berrios, working one-on-one against a Millbrook defender in the right side of the box, pushed to her right to create some separation before firing a cross pass that ran parallel to the goal line. The balls skidded past a lunging Nordin and rolled all the way to the far post, where freshman Sydney Hunter – who left the game briefly in the second half after suffering an ankle injury – was positioned to poke the ball into an open net to cut the Pioneers’ lead to 3-2.

Sherando had seized all of the momentum in the match – but only for 90 seconds. The Pioneers came right back with Evelyn Esslinger’s second goal of the match, which came off a corner kick from teammate Lauren Reed and clanged off the left post before crossing the goal line for a 4-2 Millbrook lead with 11 minutes to play.

“I was telling the girls on the sideline, I said we have to bring their momentum down, because I felt it,” Pioneers coach Matt Cottino said. “I felt the swing and I’m just happy that they rebounded well, and … we finished, which is nice.”

The Warriors weren’t quite done, however. With the final minutes counting down, Hunter swiped the ball from a Millbrook defender deep in the penalty box before drawing a foul on a tackle by Pioneers senior Brooke Goodwin. That set up a penalty kick chance for Sherando senior Dreaya Somerville, who converted to pull the Warriors within 4-3 with about two minutes remaining.

Cranking up the pace into a frantic scramble after the ensuing kickoff, Sherando got one more look at the tying goal on a corner kick with 30 seconds to play, but a header attempt by senior Alex Snapp – the Warriors’ 23rd shot of the match – sailed well wide of the left post.

Millbrook needed only 10 shot attempts to score its four goals.

“(We were) just flat,” Kilmer said. “But they capitalized. They took care of their chances, we didn’t take care of our chances. We take care of our chances, we win this game.

“Their goalie had a great game,” he added of Nordin, who had seven saves, five in the first half. “She was the difference maker in this game.”

Millbrook’s first shots of each half resulted in goals for the Pioneers. Esslinger opened the scoring with a goal off a Reed assist in the 15th minute, and that 1-0 lead held until Reed converted off a Goodwin cross less than two minutes into the second half.

Emily Learn made it 3-0 with 27 minutes remaining when she fired a shot from a crowd in the middle of the box that was ruled to have crossed the goal line as Sherando keeper Kara Hendren (three saves) fell on the ball.

The loss marked the end of the road for Sherando seniors Berrios, Somerville, Snapp, Olivia Elliott and Rhiannon Moore.

“(They) put us back on a winning path. They’ve been a great group all the way through,” Kilmer said. “Great leadership. A special group.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com