By Jonathan Deal
Riley Ridgeway scored a goal just over a minute into overtime that sent Athens to a second consecutive state championship game. After two scoreless halves in regulation, Ridgeway’s left-footed shot sailed over the Briarwood keeper’s head to give Athens a 1-0 win.
Due to the “Golden Goal” rule, Ridgeway’s goal ended the game immediately ended the game, sending Athens’ bench players rushing onto the field to mob the senior in celebration.
“Relief, excitement, joy,” said Athens head coach J.B. Hutchinson about his emotions after the game. “The girls said at the beginning of the year, ‘We left unfinished business in Huntsville.’ And that’s been the mantra all year.”
With that mindset, Athens fought for 80 minutes to keep a clean sheet and send the game into overtime. After a first-half with few chances, Briarwood put Athens under pressure midway through the second with several chances at the goal.
With 25 minutes remaining in the game, center defender Mary Claire Breakfield sprinted back to deny Briarwood’s Sara Smeltzer on a breakaway. Briarwood outshot Athens 19 to 8 for the game, including 15-4 in the second half.
“Anything less than a state championship would have been a failure to me right now,” said Mary Claire Breakfield after the game. “We just tried to keep our composure, keep the defense organized and encourage each other.”
For Breakfield and many other of Athens’ seniors, it was their fourth state semifinal.
“You know what to expect coming in, so you’re not as nervous, but of course you always do get the nerves,” said Breakfield. “It’s a great experience. I wouldn’t trade my team for anything, absolutely nothing.”
After weathering a storm of Briarwood attacks late in the second half, Athens regained its composure and responded immediately in the overtime period with a goal. It was the seventh consecutive semifinal appearance for Athens.
Following five straight losses in the semifinals, Athens made it two wins in a row in the state tournament.
Athens will play St. Paul’s at 10 a.m. Friday at John Hunt Park.