By Kim West
A record-setting season for the West Limestone girls soccer squad came to an abrupt end Tuesday night in picturesque Jones Valley, as No. 6 Randolph defeated the No. 7 Wildcats 2-0 to advance to the third round of the Class 1A-4A state playoffs.
The Raiders (12-6-4), the state runner-up last season, will play at No. 1 John Paul II-Catholic on Saturday with the winner advancing to the Final Four. This was the third straight season the Raiders eliminated West in the postseason.
Randolph used a 31-12 shot advantage and a deliberate passing attack to wear down West Limestone (15-3-1), which generated several golden scoring opportunities of its own but could not find the back of the net.
“They just gave it their all, and left everything on the field,” said West coach Kerry Gowan. “Randolph controlled the ball, and kept pushing up.”
When West sophomore striker Anyston Belt, who played both playoff games with a fractured ankle, exited for a respite midway through the first half, the Raiders unleashed four shots in two minutes and went ahead 1-0 on a goal by Emily Knowling in the 26th minute.
Randolph’s second goal came in the 47th minute as Lauren Lowe, who earned the match’s only yellow card with her physical style of play at right forward, collected a loose ball near the penalty kick spot, darted left and directed a low, angled shot into the right side of the netting.
Berzett capped a stellar season with a range of diving saves, point-blank stops and lunging deflections to finish with a season-high 17 saves. For the season, she posted 13 shutouts and a 0.79 goals-against average.
West nearly spoiled the shutout in the closing seconds of the game when Gowan dribbled more than 50 yards past several Raiders and found Belt for a shot that was stopped at the near post.
West, whose 15 wins tied a program record, must replace its four senior captains — forward Allison Martin (11 goals, 14 assists) and defenders Anna Harper Gowan, Laura Easter and Sarah Easter.
The back-line trio of Gowan and the Easter twins combined for nine goals and eight assists, and helped the Wildcats outscore its opponents 56-15 in 19 games this season.
The Wildcats, which won their first area championship, advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time and will return its top two scorers, junior Jessica Hutchinson (18 goals) and Belt (16), along with seven starters.