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Salem girls reach state semifinals

CONYERS - The Salem girls soccer team is on a roll right now.

In fact, the Lady Seminoles have rolled their way right into the Class AAAA semifinals.

Junior Jordan Young tallied a hat trick as Salem (16-2-1) advanced with a 5-2 win over Starr's Mill (11-4-1) on Saturday at Reid Memorial Stadium in a physical game that featured fireworks almost from the start.

"I didn't expect the game to have that many fireworks," Salem coach Heather Richardson said. "It really was a different type of game than what I expected. But our girls did a great job and we produced our own fireworks to match theirs. It was a physical game, and the girls did a good job of matching their physical play."

Starr's Mill delivered the first blow in the heavyweight slugfest. Laura McCalla scored deep in the box off a free kick just 3:28 into the contest.

But Salem caught a break less than a minute later. Young was behind the Lady Panther defense when she was hauled down just outside the box by Katrina Frost, who received a red card, putting Starr's Mill down a player for the final 76:01 of the game.

The Lady Seminoles converted off the free kick when Caitlyn Cofer tapped home a rebound off Brittany Beaumont's blast at 4:05.

"It was huge to tie the game so quick after they took a lead so early," Richardson said. "We kept our composure and didn't get rattled."

Later in the half, Richardson rolled the dice on a subtle lineup change that paid big dividends for the Lady Seminoles. She moved Beaumont from center midfield up to the front of the Salem attack, switching places with Taylor Gates.

The change produced results moments later when Young scored her first goal with 15:15 left in the first half, tracking down a pass from Beaumont and then firing a high shot over Starr's Mill keeper Victoria Hopkins for a 2-1 lead.

Last year, the Lady Seminoles held a 2-1 halftime lead over St. Pius in the quarterfinals but lost in penalty kicks. That outcome was one of Richardson's halftime topics.

"We held a 2-1 lead last year against St. Pius, and we didn't finish it off," she said. "We talked about it at halftime. I told them that we've got to finish it off this time."

The lineup move paid dividends again just 1:35 into the second half. This time, Beaumont scored in the box off a header from Gates, who had perfectly redirected Brittany Whitson's free kick.

"When I switch Brittany and Taylor, it's really just kind of a feel I get about the game," Richardson said. "Brittany gives us a different look up front, and Taylor does a great job of distributing the ball from the middle, so we're not taking away from either spot by making the change.

"Absolutely, getting that third goal was huge for us. It was nice to have some breathing room with a two-goal lead at that point in the game. It was just a great play by Brittany and Taylor."

Despite being down a player and two goals, Starr's Mill made one last desperate push in the final 20 minutes.

Salem keeper Kellianne Collins made a big save on Carlie Banks with about 20 minutes left to keep the two-goal lead.

The Lady Panthers appeared to score with 17:15 remaining on Mandy McCalla's free kick, but the referee waved off the goal, ruling that Banks interfered with Collins in the box.

Starr's Mill cut the deficit to one with 12:05 remaining when Nicole Hammer tapped in a rebound from a free kick off the post during a mad scramble on the doorstep.

Instead of worrying about defense, the Lady Seminoles unleashed some more offensive fireworks.

Young tracked down a long pass from Ashley Parker, walked in on the keeper and scored with 6:53 left, increasing Salem's lead to 4-2.

With 1:21 remaining, Young put the final nail in the Starr's Mill coffin with her third goal. The junior has now scored seven of Salem's 11 goals in the postseason.

"Jordan is definitely on a roll," Richardson said. "She made some great plays today. She didn't rush her shots and she didn't waste her scoring chances."

The game featured 33 fouls, three red cards and three yellow cards. Two more Starr's Mill players were ejected on red cards in the final four minutes of play.

The Lady Seminoles, who have now won eight straight games, will face Marist, a 2-1 winner over McIntosh, in the semifinals Wednesday at Reid Memorial Stadium.

Jeff Gillespie can be reached at jeff.gillespie@rockdalecitizen.com.