By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. —
Soccer goals are hard to come by. Almost every one is celebrated with joy, and relief.
Both of those feelings were evident on Saturday evening on the Tazewell sideline.
Erica Whited broke the suspense of a scoreless tilt, punching a ball into the promised land late in the second half, which led to the Lady Bulldogs' 1-0 victory over the Marion Scarlet Hurricane in the opening match of the Southwest District soccer tournament at Ernie Hicks Stadium.
Tazewell flooded the 18-yard box as Haley Christian launched a corner kick. The ball bounced as if in a pinball machine among players for both teams. Then it hopped in front of Whited's right foot, about three yards from an open stretch of goal line.
“I was just hoping (on) this corner kick that we'd score,” said Whited, a junior who is playing her first varsity season. “All the offense was up there kicking. I was the lucky one to kick it into the goal.”
The memorable effort was her second varsity goal, after three years of JV play. “It felt great to have everyone congratulate me, and to help the team,” she said.
The Hurricane (4-11-1) was the aggressor early on, getting off four shots on goal in the first 10 minutes, each saved by Tazewell keeper Kate Snapp. Marion striker Callie Mellinger was at the forefront in their attack, but the Lady Bulldogs soon learned to bracket her on defense.
After a first half in which Marion outshot Tazewell 4-2, the Lady Bulldogs opened the second period with forward pressure, playing eight in Marion's half of the pitch.
The Scarlet Hurricane responded with a defense that regularly packed into their 18-yard box with eight red-clad guardians.
On one play, they let the ball through. It turned out to be enough for Tazewell (6-7-1).
“The whole season, we've been a second-half team,” said Tazewell head coach Jeremy Call. “I'm not taking anything away from Marion. They're very well coached, very disciplined. (But) we knew if we could hold them, eventually they would wear out.”
It was little wonder. To make up some matches, Marion was playing its fourth game in five days, two of them overtime affairs. On Friday evening, the Hurricane lost 2-1 to Carroll County in Hillsville – then traveled to Richlands on a quick turnaround.
“For them to stand upright is a wonder,” Marion head coach Jay Shirey said about his team. “Hats off to Tazewell. They played hard.”
“They were just pushing us so hard (in the second half),” he said. “We couldn't get the ball out of our defensive territory. They were playing really well.”
Call cautioned his team after their goal. “I had to tell them to play like it's 0-0 or like we're playing from behind,” he said. “When you score that goal, it's a relief, but that's the most dangerous time. It's a time when you can have a letdown. But we were able to compose ourselves and I'm proud that they played it out.”
Whited said, “I was just pressuring as hard as I could. We were hoping to tough it out and win the game.”
She said about her goalkeeper, Snapp, “She's just an amazing goalkeeper. She’s always there to get the ball. If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't have done nearly as well as we have. She's going off to college to play. We're going to miss her.”
Regarding his offense, Shirey said, “We had enough chances, but we didn't get them in, didn't capitalize on them.”
Fittingly, the final minute included a long pass to Marion's Mellinger, who was marked well by Samantha Altizer of Tazewell on the left wing. Altizer sent the ball back for safe-keeping among the Lady Bulldogs as the final seconds ticked off.
Tazewell will take on top-seeded Richlands in the tourney semifinals on Monday at 8 p.m at Ernie Hicks Stadium, after Carroll County takes on Abingdon at 6 p.m.
—Contact Tom Bone