CONYERS - The Salem girls soccer team spent most of Tuesday night's Region 8-AAAA championship creating excellent scoring chances, but couldn't find the back of the net.
The Lady Seminoles rang shots off the crossbar, hit both posts and pushed headers and shots too high and too wide. They could have gotten frustrated, but instead they kept creating.
And it paid off.
Sophomore Taylor Gates scored twice in the final 14:41 of the game as the Lady Seminoles (13-2-1) claimed their third straight Region 8-AAAA championship with a 3-1 decision over Loganville at Reid Memorial Stadium.
"We created so many good opportunities against a good team in a big game. I was so pleased with the opportunities we created, but I haven't had a team hit the crossbar that many times or had that many headers just skid by (the goal)," Salem coach Heather Richardson said. "Taylor is just a really good finisher. She enjoys the ball and tonight, I think, she showed that. She was able to take the ball, I think, with determination and put it in the goal."
With overtime starting to loom on the horizon, Gates pushed the ball down the far sideline, cut to the goal in the corner and then walked in all alone on the Loganville keeper. The sophomore drilled her shot past the keeper on the short side, giving Salem a 2-1 lead with 14:41 to play.
With 1:29 remaining, she added some much-needed insurance, scoring deep in the box on a header off a Brittany Miller header, which was set up by a Brittany Beaumont corner kick.
After a 1-1 first half, Salem's defense put the clamps on Loganville's attack in the second half. The Lady Devils managed just one good scoring opportunity and it came with just 34 seconds left in the game.
"I'm very pleased with our defense this year, all over the field, but especially the back players," Richardson said. "They're stepping in and winning the ball. They're really jelling well together."
Salem dominated long stretches of the first half, but actually trailed 1-0 when Loganville's Ashlynne Bass scored on a free kick from 25 yards with 5:32 left until halftime.
Up to that point, the Lady Seminoles had hit the crossbar three times and the post once.
But a hustling play by Jordan Young wiped away all of Salem's first-half frustration.
Young hustled after a ball in the box and and got to it almost the exact moment as Loganville keeper Taylor Thompson. Young's shot took a long rebound out to the top of the box, where Brittany Miller buried her shot into the open net to tie the game at 1-1 with 2:23 left in the half.
"It's a testament to the players that I have to win three straight region championships," Richardson said. "They've been working hard. It's a tradition that I hope will continue. It's great for me as a coach to see my players to do so well."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.