NASHVILLE — Watching her side's 4-1 lead shrink to 4-3 with six minutes to play, Southeast Bulloch High girls soccer coach Kristen Barnhill became a clock watcher.
"Oh yeah, I wanted the time to go faster and faster," she said. "But I also was comfortable that we were holding our positions and playing like we should, so I was confident at the same time."
Barnhill's confidence proved well-founded, as the Lady Jackets held on for the 4-3 victory over host Berrien County Friday in the first round of the GHSA Class AA state playoffs.
With the victory, the Lady Jackets move on to play Pike County in the second round on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Pike, the top seed out of Region 4-AA, defeated Toombs County, 5-0, in the first round on Thursday and will play host to SEB in Zebulon, which is located about 40 miles northwest of Macon.
"I have to admit after we lost the first two games of the season (4-0 and 3-0) the way we did, I didn't think we would be here winning a state playoff game," said sophomore forward Mary Kate Schlierf. "But we kept working hard and getting better and better. It's a great feeling heading to the second round."
Schlierf played a key role in helping SEB win, scoring two goals and assisting on the two other scores.
Though SEB controlled most of the play in the first half, the score was 0-0 about eight minutes before halftime. Schlierf took the ball near midfield and sent a kick downfield. A Berrien player headed it backwards and the Rebels goalie misplayed it for an own goal, that gave the Lady Jackets a 1-0 lead and was credited to Schlierf.
About two minutes later, Schliefr sent a corner kick to the top of the penalty box where Christen Carter's kick on goal hit the top of the crossbar and landed inside the Berrien goal for a 2-0 SEB halftime lead.
But less than two minutes into the second half, Berrien cut the lead in half on a penalty kick following a handball call.
For the next 10 minutes, Berrien controlled much of the action and nearly tied the score twice.
"We seemed to get a little deflated after the penalty kick and they had us on our heels," Barnhill said.
But at the 24-minute mark, Schlierf helped get SEB back in control. Taking a ball down the right side, she sent a crossing pass through the front of the Berrien goal to Natanya Suarez, who kicked it in for a 3-1 Jacket lead.
Three minutes later, Schlieref was coming down the right side again, but this time she booted a powerful right-footed shot from about 20 yards out into the left upper corner of the Rebels goal for a seemingly safe 4-1 SEB lead with 21 minutes to play.
Berrien cut it to 4-2 at the nine-minute mark and made it 4-3 three minutes later.
Under tremendous pressure, SEB goalie Kaitlyn White kept her composure and made several saves as the clock wound down. The game ended after three consecutive Berrien corner kicks were deflected by SEB defenders across the goal line.
"We're going to get back to work Monday and get ready for Pike and the second round of the playoffs," Barnhill said. "The second round sure sounds great."
James Healy can be reached at (912) 489-9402.