|Lady Cats score last-minute goal in win over NL|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Feb. 11, 2006 - PARIS - For 79 minutes, the handful of Sulphur Springs fans at North Lamar's R.L. Maddox Stadium endured wintry weather better suited for Turin, Italy.
When the district-opening girls soccer match was over, though, they went home with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
A last-minute goal from SSHS junior Gayle Grand-Lienard off a nifty assist from freshman Bonnie Grafton gave the Lady Cats a 1-0 victory over North Lamar in the District 12-4A opener.
The goal, which scored with 1:15 to play, was set up when midfielder Sarah Goldsmith stopped a North Lamar offensive near midfield and passed the ball to Grafton on the left wing. Grafton made a long run down the side, then as she neared the corner, split a pair of Pantherette defenders and could have taken a shot from about 15 yards out. Instead, she passed to Grand-Lienard, who was about eight yards in front of the net.
The goalie never had a chance.
"Bonnie's a great freshman," said SSHS head coach J.J. Williams. "You look at her play and see a junior skill level. She does great things with the ball. She can run through them, just like Gayle - and she did - and made the perfect pass to the middle and Gayle capitalized."
The Lady Cats (6-7-3 overall) kept North Lamar scoreless with airtight goal keeping by Kai'la Petty, who had nine saves including a pair of leaping blocks in the first eight minutes of the second half, and defenders Goldsmith, Erica Verner, Makenzie Kelty, Sarah Petty and Elvia Zuniga.
It also helps that for the first time all season, the Lady Cats are at full strength. Grafton is healthy after missing about half of the season, and her older sister, Robin Grafton, is playing for the first time this year after being a First Team All-District pick last spring. Verner is also recovered from foot injuries and has been re-inserted at sweeper, allowing Kelty to move to stopper.
"During the stint of tournaments, we never knew what to expect since we had so many players out," Williams said. "It does help to have a full team for district.
"I'm so proud of this team. There's not any one person I can pick out who played good because it was a team effort. From the bench to the starters, we did our job."
North Lamar outshot Sulphur Springs, 12-9, but the Lady Cats had a first-half goal nullified on an offside call. Too bad, because it was the most aesthetic play of the game.
On the play, with 14 minutes gone in the first half, Bonnie Grafton retrieved a ball near the end line before it could roll out. She controlled it and sent it back out to Grand-Lienard, who boomed a kick from 25 yards out to the corner of the goal, where Morgan Baima was there to head it in. But, the flag went up and the goal was disqualified.
The Lady Cats had a couple of more good shots in the second half, including a 30-yarder from Kelty, a left-footed attempt from 12 yards out by Grand-Lienard and a 15-yard shot from Grafton that hit the side of the net.
North Lamar's best chances happened in the second half as well, but Petty made five saves in the final 40 minutes, and North Lamar had one shot clang off the left pole with 8:10 left in the match.
The Lady Cat defense also played well, as Verner had numerous clearing kicks deep in SSHS territory, and Zuniga and D'Kota Hutchings both stopped NL attacks.
"I knew it would be this tight. North Lamar has one of the better teams they've had since I've been coaching the last four years," Williams said.
"You've got to play one of your best games to win, and I think we did play one of the best games I've seen us play since I've been head coach here. You can't ask more from the kids. You challenge them and they rise up to the occasion. I'm just proud of them."