THOMASVILLE - After getting dazed by an upstart challenger's punch to the face, a soccer heavyweight responded with a quick 1-2 punch that proved to be decisive in Friday's Class AAAA quarterfinal at Frederick C. Cleoron Field.
Perennial Area 8-AAAA champion Salem scored twice in a 91-second span en route to edging Thomas County Central 2-1. The Seminoles' goals were tallied by Brittany Whitson and Karlie McCallum at 9:33 and 8:02 of the first half, respectively.
"Give Salem credit. That's a great team," Central head coach Nicholas Haskin said. "It's hard to travel as far as they did on a bus and play well, but they were able to do it.
"I'm not taking anything away from my girls, though. I thought they played well, too."
Featuring seven sophomores, the Yellow Jackets rarely got the ball across midfield in the first 40 minutes. They made the most their best scoring chance, however.
Sophomore Erika Pendland split two defenders with a lengthy kick that eluded keeper Shallon Hobbs and rattled the back of the net to give Central a lead it kept for slightly more than 12 minutes.
"I'm proud of my girls," Haskin said. "I don't think Salem respected us or south Georgia soccer - they said some things about us in their newspaper - but I think we showed them we can compete."
Scoring opportunities were scarce for both teams after Whitson's goal-scoring header on a free kick and McCallum's breakaway tally.
"We did a great job in the first 10 minutes or so, but we let them have that little burst - and it cost us," Haskin said.
Haskin urged his team to be more aggressive on offense in the second half. The Yellow Jackets responded by maintaining possession of the ball more frequently, but they - like the Seminoles - couldn't muster a score.
"We played great defense all year - team defense," Haskin said.
Salem will play in the Class AAAA semifinal Tuesday against the Whitewater-Glynn Academy winner.
The Lady Seminoles are making their second straight trip to the semifinals. Last year, they fell 1-0 to Marist on a last-second goal.