COVINGTON, Ga. — Tuesday night at Homer Sharp Stadium, the No. 5 Eastside Lady Eagles (11-4-2) hosted the Decatur Lady Bulldogs (7-7-3) in the first round of the Class AAAAA State Playoffs.
Eastside’s season ultimately came to an end as the club suffered a 2-0 defeat.
Looking at the teams’ season records, one might think this could be an easy match for the home-standing Lady Eagles. A little research would quickly change that perspective.
The Lady Bulldogs had lost to the top three ranked teams in Class AAAAA: No. 1 Blessed Trinity, No. 2 St. Pius and No. 3 McIntosh, as well as to No. 7 Chamblee and No. 8 Grady. Decatur also lost to Class AAA No. 1 Westminster and to Class AAAAAAA perennial powerhouse Parkview.
Decatur's Lindsey Fossett scored a quick goal off an assist from Caroline Jordan less than three minutes into the match, giving the Lady Bulldogs a 1-0 lead with 37:37 on the clock. That goal would prove to be the game-winner.
Decatur would force only one save by Eastside goalkeeper Anna Shelton in the first half and that came with 23:52 until halftime on a long shot attempted from in front of the Eastside goal.
Decatur had an excellent game plan that managed to disrupt the usual smooth ebb and flow that the Lady Eagles create when passing and driving upfield. Decatur had at least 11 substitutions during the first half alone. The frequent substitutions seemed to control the game clock and to slow down the usual quick pace of the Eastside attack.
Still, the Lady Eagles forced six saves by Decatur's vocal net-minder Zoe Deluca. Three of those saves were on long free kicks by the Lady Eagles.
Seven minutes into the game, Bailey Love sent a long free kick that hit directly off the foot of Lizzie Teasley at the Lady Bulldogs’ 6-yard box, but the shot went up and over the Decatur goal.
The best opportunity Eastside created in the first half came soon after with 31:00 on the clock when the Lady Eagles flashed their usual smooth ball control that resulted in Aralyn Everett sending a pass to Lauren Davis charging down the left side of the pitch. Davis' shot barely missed wide left.
Everett missed on a shot of her own from close range that sailed over the Decatur goal just three minutes before the halftime break.
The first half ended with the Lady Bulldogs ahead 1-0.
Eastside created opportunities to equalize early in the second half. Teasley had a long free kick that just missed to the left of the Lady Bulldogs goal 37 seconds into the half.
Decatur later forced Shelton to make her second save of the match with 37:34 remaining. Within seconds, Everett fired a shot that new Lady Bulldog keeper Olivia Calder could not control but the ball rolled just outside the right post of the Decatur net. Teasley fired a long shot from the right that hit off a defender posted at the Decatur goal line that Calder gathered in with 36:40 left to play.
Things began to change when Decatur finally got their offense clicking.
The Lady Bulldogs dominated possession for over half of the second stanza. A goal by Caroline Jordan gave them a 2-0 lead. Jordan collected a long cross that switched the field from the left side and her resulting shot snuck in just behind Shelton and into the Eastside net.
Decatur forced Shelton to make four saves and at least three outstanding defensive plays in the second half.
The score remained 2-0 when Lily Oftedal delivered a well placed throw-in to Everett's head. Everett controlled the ball, dribbled around a defender, and fired a shot that was saved by the Decatur keeper with 13:47 left on the game clock.
With 3:05 left to play, Everett delivered a cross from the deep right to Love directly in front of the Decatur goal just outside the 6-yard box, but Love's close-range shot was saved by the Lady Bulldog keeper. It would be the Lady Eagles final true scoring opportunity.
With the 2-0 win, Decatur moves on to the Sweet 16. In the other Region 5 matchups against Region 8 teams, St. Pius defeated Clarke Central, 6-0, Chamblee topped Jackson County, 2-1, and Northview beat Region 8 Champion Greenbrier, 1-0.
After the match, Lady Eagles coach Joel Singleton said: "We played a very good team today and they made the most of their opportunities and we simply couldn't. We out shot them and controlled a lot of possession on our end but they executed better than we did. I'm disappointed for our team but we had a good season. We never got our stride back after spring break. That was tough to see but the girls worked hard and tried to do their very best."
The 2021 season was one of the top-five campaigns in the Lady Eagles 25 year program history.
It included the fourth-best regular season record (11-3-2), as well as the fourth-best overall record (11-4-2). The Lady Eagles were ranked as high as No. 5 in the state, the highest in program history. Aralyn Everett led the team in both goals (25) and assists (15). The season also saw Everett notch the 100th goal of her Eastside career, second all-time behind Ashton Ziadie.
This year's senior class went 42-18-4 in their Eastside careers that included 2018-2021. The 2009-2012 seniors went 45-21-3 and the 2016-2019 class went 44-28-2. They were the first set of seniors to finish as Region runners-up three times. They qualified for State three of their four years, only the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season kept them from possibly matching the program record held by the 2009-2012 seniors of qualifying for state all four years.
About his seniors, Singleton added: "This senior class won at least 11 games every season minus COVID and had we played a full season they would have (won 11). No EHS team has done that.They helped set a school record with 15 wins in 2019 and the most goals scored and least goals allowed. They got to be part of 3 playoff wins, which are hard to come by. That's something to be proud of."
Looking to the future Singleton said: "I look forward to seeing what the returning girls can bring to the table next year and continue building upon what EHS soccer is all about."