CONYERS - Erin Emerson scored two goals and Whitewater's defense was dazzling after allowing an early goal as the 2007 state champions returned to the title game with a 2-1 win over Salem in the Class AAAA semifinals.
"We really worked hard today, they just out-played us," first-year Salem coach Heather Cheek said. "I just told them I had no idea what to say to make them feel better. We just missed it."
Emerson showed why she is considered one of the state's finest players, scoring twice in the first 40 minutes to give Whitewater (19-3) a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Emerson, a University of Mississippi commitment, got a feed from Jewelia Strickland and knocked in a header in the 17th minute for a 1-0 lead.
Salem (18-4) answered less than 40 seconds later. Whitewater keeper Ali Young gambled and left the net open, allowing Taylor Gates an easy goal that tied the game at 1-1.
With 3:43 to play in the half, Jade Ah-low tight roped the end line and made a pretty feed to Emerson, who ripped it past Salem keeper Shallon Hobbs for her 48th goal of the season (ninth in the playoffs) to put the Wildcats up 2-1.
"I can't say enough about her," Whitewater coach Heather Allen said of Emerson. "First goal we knew if we could cross that we could get one. Same thing (on second goal); Jade has a lot of speed (and) she works for every ball."
"They did have a difficult time with (Emerson)," Cheek said. "The first one she just snuck by us ... she beat us today. I guess they just wanted it more."
Whitewater's defense, which has been phenomenal all season, allowing 11 goals in 22 games, passed another test Tuesday night. Salem could only muster five shots on goal but did have two chances to pull even late in the game. Gates was wide on a penalty shot with 12:00 to play and Emily Boggus couldn't convert on an open shot with 10 seconds left.
"We did struggle in the second half (and) their defense did play a factor," Cheek said. "(But) I feel like we missed a couple shots that we shouldn't have."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.