STEPHENS CITY — A couple of Sherando players picked a pretty good time to score their first goals of the year Friday night.
Freshman forward Kelsey Johnson opened the scoring in the 31st minute and senior forward Haley Byrnes capped things off in the 67th minute to help the third-seeded Sherando girls’ soccer team to a 3-0 win over No. 6 Millbrook in the first round of the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Warriors (12-4-1) — who tied a school record previously set in 2008 and 2009 with their 10th shutout of the year and won their fifth straight game – will play at No. 2 James Wood (13-3-1) at 6 p.m. in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Colonels beat No. 7 Fauquier 3-0 on Friday night.
Given that the Warriors had shut out Millbrook (3-12-2) in their previous two meetings by 2-0 scores, the team that scored first on Friday figured to get a huge momentum boost.
The Pioneers nearly broke through in the 11th minute, but instead it was Johnson, a player who was itching to finally find the back of the net.
Through 30 minutes, Sherando sophomore forward Kendall Lincoln (two assists) had all five of the Sherando shots that traveled close to the Millbrook goal. She took another one after speeding toward goal in the 31st minute, but it was blocked out of bounds.
The Pioneers couldn’t find a way to knock away her ensuing corner kick, though. Lincoln’s kick from the right corner found Johnson at the far left post, and she headed the ball high into the net from eight yards away.
“There have been previous times before where a corner kick has come in, and I’ve missed it or it hit me the wrong way,” said Johnson, one of three freshmen on the team, with a laugh. “This time I just got my head forward and I hit it. I got a good hit off of it and it went through.
“I’ve been working to try and score a goal, because I’m the only freshmen on the team that hasn’t scored. So, I was really happy about that.”
Johnson said her teammates have offered her a lot of encouragement in her quest to get that goal. Strong support has also played a big role in the success of a Sherando defense that is allowing exactly one goal per game this year.
On Friday, the Warriors (20 shots for the game) made Johnson’s goal stand up by allowing just six shots to Millbrook, three of which resulted in saves from senior goalkeeper Kara Hendren (four shutouts this year).
“We have a really good mesh between this year and last year,” said senior Jessica Poole, who teamed with sophomore Lizzie Campbell, senior Sydney Hunter and sophomore Ashley Catalano in the back on Friday. “We have a good keeper behind us, and we all trust each other on the field. I feel like that really plays a lot into it.”
Sherando coach Rob Kilmer was glad to see the other good goalkeeper who has played behind that Warrior defense score on Friday. Byrnes was Sherando’s second-leading scorer last year with five goals but had to step in for 10 games in goal while Hendren was injured earlier this season. She posted six shutouts in that time.
“It’s great to see her finally getting back in game-condition shape, and I think it showed [tonight],” Sherando coach Rob Kilmer said. “She can certainly help us up top.”
Millbrook might have made things more interesting if it got the first goal, but a big save from Hendren helped prevent that from happening.
A long ball was played ahead to Millbrook senior Ali Devart, but Hendren came off her line to cut down the angle and deflected the ball a couple yards away from where Devart shot the ball out for a corner.
The Pioneers then had a chance to put in the ensuing corner kick when the ball settled on the ground a few yards from goal, but they couldn’t win the scramble for the ball and the Warriors cleared it away from danger.
For a Pioneer team that scored only nine goals this year and suffered its 11th shutout on Friday, missed chances like those can hurt.
“Soccer’s a game where you get a goal here or there, it kind of changes things,” Millbrook coach Rob Douglas said. “That’s kind of been our season. If we get a goal here or there, things are a little different for us.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the goal. And [Sherando’s] got a team over there with goal-scorers, you give them enough chances, they’re going to bury one.”
The Warriors buried their second in the second half in the 56th minute. Lincoln dribbled toward the center of the field after starting on the left side of the penalty box before laying the ball off to midfielder Julia Hunter. The sophomore pushed the ball ahead before unleashing a blast from the top of the 18 that found the back of the net to make it 2-0.
The Warriors controlled things from there and added Byrnes’ goal to finish off Millbrook. Pioneers’ goalkeeper Jordan Baer helped limit Sherando with eight saves.
Kilmer said he was definitely happy with his team’s performance.
“Millbrook is so well-coached,” Kilmer said. “To hold them to what we did is a credit to our girls.
“We’re pleased. Starting off the year with all the injuries we had was tough, but we’ve come together as a group, and we’re coming on at the right time.”
Douglas said he was proud of his team’s effort Friday, and its progress over the course of the season.
“They’re getting better and better,” said Douglas, whose team lists 13 underclassmen on its roster. “They’re young. I’m very happy about the future. We played a lot of young kids this year. Hopefully we can keep getting better.”