By Alan Simpson
Rachael Schmidt scored the golden goal 1:47 into extra time, Vanessa Alexander scored twice during regulation and GPC squeaked by Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in the GCAA tournament semifinals in Albany Friday evening.
After squandering chances during regulation, the Jaguars made extra time a short affair. After an ABAC turnover in midfield, GPC pushed the ball up the right wing and crossed into the box. Erin Baker’s initial shot was repelled, but Schmidt collected and buried the rebound.
The win puts GPC into the championship game Saturday at 2 p.m.
Alexander saved the day for the Jaguars, scoring twice in the second half to keep GPC in the game. Alexander played the part of the hero, as GPC’s offense couldn’t convert in the first half and then floundered in the second half.
The Jaguars dominated possession and shots on goal in the first half, but went into the break trailing 1-0.
With just a few minutes to play in the first half, center back Alex Truitt was called for a foul on ABAC’s Nikita Morris in the penalty area, giving ABAC a penalty kick. Rebecca Russell converted for the 1-0 lead.
Prior to the penalty kick, ABAC had only two shots on goal, both slow rollers that did not challenge GPC keeper Rose Okechukwu.
The Jaguars banged shots off the crossbar twice in the first half, including the first shot on goal in just the second minute of the game. Schmidt also narrowly missed a goal when she headed a cross from Cari Haaland just wide. ABAC goalkeeper Amanda Biondino denied a long blast from Schmidt with an acrobatic tip over the crossbar.
Alexander was the catalyst for GPC’s offense all game, seemingly playing at twice the speed as the other 21 players on the field. Her first goal, which equalized the game at one goal apiece with under 25 minutes to play, was a strong personal effort as she played a nifty touch to herself to beat two defenders at the top of the box before poking the goal past a charging Biondino. Her second goal seemed to be pure will, as she pressured the ABAC defense inside the area, stole the ball and buried the shot.
GPC trailed once again just 1:07 after Alexander’s first goal, as the officials ruled Okechukwu slid into the goal as she attempted to save a shot from ABAC’s Kim Rivers. The center referee initially gave no signal, but after much protest from Rivers and the ABAC coach, the center ref consulted with the assistant ref on the far sideline and awarded a goal.
The Jaguars took over the momentum again after Alexander’s equalizer with 15 minutes left in the game. It just took another 17 minutes to put it away.
Stephanie Gutierrez, the team’s third-leading scorer during the regular season, was injured in the third minute of the game and did not return.
ABAC’s Morris, who led the GCAA in scoring with 34 goals in the regular season, did not score, but put pressure on the Jaguar defense with the few deep runs she had.
The Jaguars defeated ABAC 7-2 just two weeks ago, but could not find that offense this time around. Kacey McInerney, the team’s leading scorer, had a quiet game.
GPC awaits the winner of the semifinal match between Darton and South Georgia. Darton led 3-1 early in the second half at press time.
The final, Saturday at 2 p.m. in Albany, will be broadcast live.