For the third year in a row, J.L. Mann took the Class 4A Upper State girls soccer title, this year with a 2-1 win at Dutch Fork on Monday.
“I don’t think there’s anybody around that would have thought we’d be undefeated going into this. We lost to an outstanding team over there,” Dutch Fork coach Mike Mauldin said. “That was two giants battling each other out there, and somebody had to win.”
Patriots coach Tasos Georgopoulos said, “Hats off to coach Mike and his team. They were undefeated all year long, and they really attempted to win this game and go to state. But we were the better team on the pitch today. We had more chances.”
J.L. Mann, 25-1-1 and ranked second in the state, kept the pressure on Dutch Fork’s defense through most of the second half. Goalkeeper Abby Schmidt held up well with seven saves to keep the Silver Foxes from falling behind.
J.L. Mann had two corner kicks in the 63rd minute, and the Silver Foxes fended off both attacks. But the Dutch Fork offense could not mount an attack, and the defense wore down under the pressure. With 12 minutes left, the Patriots posted their go-ahead goal off the foot of Marion Wolski.
Dutch Fork (23-1-1) got three shots on goal in the final three minutes, but could not get one across the line.
“That’s what this team is about. They don’t ever give up. They kept battling,” Mauldin said. “We had opportunities.”
With 17 minutes left in the first half, the Patriots got inside the goalkeeper’s box and got a ball past Schmidt, but another Silver Fox defender stepped in behind her to knock the shot out. J.L. Mann got its fourth corner kick of the night off the play, and the subsequent shot on goal skimmed the crossbar. With that relentless attacking pace, the Patriots kept Dutch Fork in a defensive posture for much of the half.
With 12 minutes left in the half, Hayley Younginer lined up an indirect kick from 19 yards out that arced wide of the goal, but put Dutch Fork solidly in attack mode.
In the 35th minute, a Younginer corner kick set up a Carson Markland shot from directly in front of the goal for the 1-0 lead.
“The set pieces are quite tricky, and you have to be able to defend them well. It was a corner kick that caught us off guard,” Georgopoulos said. “This wasn’t the first time we were behind, so we got right back to what we were supposed to be doing.”
Less than a minute later, J.L. Mann responded when Claudia Murphy booted in an unchallenged goal from five yards out.
Dutch Fork had two more corners in the closing minutes, but the score remained tied 1-1 at the break.
J.L. Mann will play the Lexington-Wando winner in the state championship game at River Bluff on Friday.
“I feel so proud of these girls. Every year, our team is flourishing with people stepping up,” Georgopoulos said. “We are more experienced this year, and I think we’re going to do really well.”
Mauldin said, “I think we’ve had a very successful season. It’s been an outstanding group of girls, and I can’t say enough about them.”