A key adjustment by Saint Stephen’s helped the host Falcons advance to the championship match of the Class 1A-District 7 girls soccer tournament, where they will face undefeated Out-of-Door Academy for the third time this season.
When his team earned its third corner kick of the match, in the 29th minute of Thursday’s semifinal against Bradenton Christian, Saint Stephen’s head coach Andrew Sopher decided to let sophomore Kendall Miller have the chance. Miller validated Sopher’s call, depositing the ball into the top right corner of goal for the only score in the 1-0 victory against the third-seeded Panthers at the Moore Athletic Complex at Turner Fields.
“We’ve tried a few different girls with corner kicks this year,” said Sopher, whose team improved to 11-5-0. “It depends on what we are looking for. We made a change there and allowed Kendall to take it. She knows when she has the opportunity to be aggressive and score a goal. It was a beautiful kick.”
Despite thoroughly dominating possession and getting 16 shots off against Bradenton Christian, Saint Stephen’s wasn’t in the clear until the final whistle. Panthers goalkeeper Rayna Smith had a great deal to do with that, stopping 13 Saint Stephen’s shots.
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“We just kept the pressure on, looking for another goal,” Miller said. “It just didn’t go our way. We would have really have like another goal.”
Bradenton Christian, which attempted one shot, ended its season at 8-5-2.
Saint Stephen’s lost its two regular-season matches against the top-seeded Thunder (16-0-0) by a combined margin of 6-1, including a 2-0 setback at Out-of-Door Academy in the most recent meeting. The Thunder advanced to the championship match with a 6-0 victory against Sarasota Christian in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader.
Out-of-Door received two goals each from Natalie Gorji, who opened and closed the scoring, and Mackenzie Dove. Chloe Flanders and Madison Opstal added goals, while Chloe Spingler recorded five saves to preserve the shutout.
Friday’s championship will kick off at 7 p.m. at the Moore Athletic Complex at Turner Fields.
“It’s really hard to beat a team three times, so we’re looking on the bright side,” said Miller. “We just need bring the pressure and play like we did (on Thursday) because we just gave it everything that we had.”