ROSENBERG — Playing about as physical as any opponent wants to play, the Columbia Lady ’Necks showed some grit against Fulshear on Friday in a 2-0 victory in the Class 4A Region III soccer quarterfinal round at Guy Traylor Stadium.
For the third time in the last four seasons, the Lady ’Necks (22-2-3) have advanced to the Region III tournament. And it took some doing against the Lady Chargers.
“We got a little over-hyped with the refs and we had to settle down,” Columbia Lady ’Neck coach Brad Harrington said. “But once we settled down, we started playing our game and started doing better. It was good for our team to settle down and they realized it.”
It was physical from both sides, but when it came down to pushing back harder, the Lady ’Necks did not back down an inch.
“It is always good to go in with a little bit of fight into another big game,” Harrington said. “Because every game is just going to get bigger and better.”
Next up is the Lumberton Lady Raiders in the regional semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday as they shutout Gatesville 5-0.
The region tournament will return to A&M Consolidated’s Tiger Stadium in College Station.
Facing off against the District 23-4A champion, the Lady ‘Necks had a 10 to 15 mph brisk wind at their back in the first 40 minutes of play. Both teams came out swinging, with each team taking turns at each other’s net.
Columbia’s defenders had to deal with junior forward Ingris Cortez, who is quick, and freshman forward Ellie Mikeska, who was pretty accurate with her shots.
Scoreless in the eighth minute of play, Columbia’a Avery Prewitt gave a Lady Charger a tap the referee didn’t like. So a free kick was awarded about the 10-yard line in the middle of the field. But Maggie Letson’s free kick sailed way over the net, not even coming close to sophomore Kirsten Bragg in goal.
That is about when the Lady ’Necks settled and got a grasp on what the referees were looking for. They started attacking, using the wind and its punishing style to move the ball forward.
In the 18th minute of play, freshman Nevaeh Martinez put a boot into the ball from about the 20-yard line and it bounced off Charger goalkeeper Abbie Moreno’s gloves out of bounds.
That gave the Lady ’Necks a corner kick as Paige Pullen placed the ball right where it needed to be.
“That was exciting. It was a good ball and for the one person to let it go through, it found the one person in front of the net,” Harrington said.
That was senior forward Kaley Kaspar, who punched it in at 18:28 of the first half to make it 1-0.
There were a few instances in the first half when it seemed like Cortez had gotten behind the Lady ’Necks’ defense and had a clear opening to the net. But defenders Maci Aucoin, Mariah Wessells or Sophia Galvan were right there to make sure Cortez didn’t get a clear shot at the net.
“We are pretty good at doing that,” Harrington said of his defense. “We might let a ball through, but we recover well and get in position to stop easy shots from happening.”
The one-goal lead stood until halftime as the physical end of the match continued to get more physical in the second half.
Right out of the gate, Columbia’s Kaegan Sims-Maraist dribbled down the right side line and at the last second before the ball reached the back of the end zone, dove and slugged the ball back to the middle. Kaspar was waiting for it and took a swing only to hit the right post and miss out on a great opportunity.
Sims-Maraist used her speed and physical ability to push the ball down the sideline with two or sometimes three defenders on her.
As the match wore on, the Lady Chargers were getting frustrated with Cortez getting a yellow card in the 46th minute of play.
With the wind at their back, Fulshear had more shots at the net in the second 40 minutes of play as they took 11 with Bragg coming up with nine saves.
Possibly the goal that just about killed Fulshear’s will happened at 59:17 when Martinez took a free kick from the left side of the field at the 24-yard line.
“I just told her to put it on frame and we should be all right,” Harrington said. “It turned out to be a little bit better than that.”
The ball sailed right over Moreno in the net for a 2-0 lead.
In the final minute of play, the Lady ’Necks took a final shot at the Lady Charger net with Sims-Maraist laying into the ball from the left side of the field just inside the box. Her shot bounced off a few players with a Lady ’Neck finally making it count.
Just when it seemed like the score was going to be 3-0, it didn’t stand.
“I guess the referees called someone offsides, so it didn’t count,” Harrington said.
Fulshear finished its season at 19-7-2.