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Lady Blue Devils bow out in first round of state
Statesboro senior Jania Joseph leaps over a hurdle as she would take first place in the 100 hurdles Saturday in the 51st annual Statesboro Relays held at Womack Field. - photo by JOSH AUBREY

For all the hard work that the Statesboro girls soccer team put into placing second in its region, it didn’t get much of a reward.

The Lady Blue Devils were able to host in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs on Tuesday, but the makeup of the bracket brought defending state champion Whitewater to town. The Lady Wildcats roared through Statesboro in last year’s second round and — unfortunately for the Devils — history repeated itself.

Whitewater found the net once in the first half and scored a late goal to put things away in a 2-0 victory that brought Statesboro’s season to an end.

“They’re a tough team, no doubt,” SHS coach Nick Thrower said. “But I’m proud of our girls. I thought we played hard. We didn’t back down and we never gave them easy chances. They just found a couple of goals where we couldn’t.”

Indeed, while last season’s meeting was a 5-0 whitewash by Whitewater, the Devils were up for a fight this time around. Of course, in order to deal with such a formidable opponent, some changes were made.

Normally a free-flowing attack that pushes plenty of players upfield, Statesboro completely reworked its  over the weekend in an attempt to slow down a Wildcat attack that was overpowering throughout the season. The Devils maintained a rigid and compact formation throughout the game, and while that meant sacrificing some offensive opportunities, it also allowed them to contest possession in the midfield and kept Whitewater forwards from getting behind the back line.

“I thought our girls did a great job in executing what was a very different game plan,” Thrower said. “It accomplished what we wanted it to. We just weren’t able to get a goal to help ourselves out.”

While the Devils’ defense worked in game action, there was no defense for a 23rd minute free kick by Whitewater’s Bailey Vessell. Following a Statesboro foul, Vessell let loose from 25 yards out, sailing the ball over the SHS wall and beating Blue Devil keeper Morgan Host to the far post for a 1-0 lead.

Statesboro appeared to press a bit harder offensively as the second half began. As Whitewater continued to lose possession in the midfield, Statesboro’s Helen Gutierrez, Tanner Kaiser and Brooke Stansel made run after run into the Wildcats’ back line. But the connecting passes were never quite there and both a well-placed cross and the Devils’ lone corner kick of the second half fell into empty space near the net where they were quickly scooped up by WHS keeper Anna Agi.

With the Devils feeling the heat late in the game, a fluke play shut down any chance of an SHS comeback. 

Host gathered a loose ball and walked it out to the edge of the 18 yard box before punting it downfield. The kick didn’t travel far and was hauled in by Camille Messina, who returned fire back at the net. The shot wasn’t a hard one, but Host didn’t have time to retreat back to her line and the ball slowly floated into the net for the 2-0 margin with just under 16 minutes to play.

Statesboro sent more players forward in an attempt to generate any offense, but Whitewater was able to stave off the attacks and easily ground down the final minutes.

"It's tough anytime you lose and the season comes to a close," Thrower said. "We'll get back to work and those who are coming back for us will try to get us back here next season.

"As for our seniors, I wish them the best.  They've done a great job for us. I hope they take everything that they've learned being a part of this team and use that to go out and be successful in all the things that come along after high school."

The Blue Devils end their season with a 6-8-2 mark. Whitewater advances to the second round where it will either travel to Veterans or host Jones County.