It took a crazy finish, but sophomore Tori Thompson’s hat trick led the Statesboro girls over Effingham County for their first region win in a 4-3 victory Tuesday evening at Womack Field.
After each team scored twice in the first 15 minutes, the Lady Blue Devils (2-1, 1-0 Region 2-AAAA and Lady Rebels (1-1, 0-1) stayed knotted at 2-2 for over 50 minutes of play.
In the 72nd minute, Statesboro finally broke through after a yellow card was assessed against Effingham. The ensuing free kick found Taylor Sarrat 35 yards out and Sarrat led Thompson into the clear with a through pass.
Rebel goalkeeper Morgan Smith stopped Thompson’s initial shot, but the rebound came free behind her and Thompson put it into the back of the net for her second goal of the night and a 3-2 lead.
Refusing to go down easily, Effingham answered right back.
Sydnee Van Luren blasted a free kick from 40 yards out that SHS goalkeeper Makayla Patterson couldn’t corral. Suzannah Stone was there to score off of the rebound and pulled the Rebels even at 3-3 with under eight minutes to play.
Statesboro finally took the lead for good just a minute later as an Effingham defender overran a pass to Thompson. In the clear, Thompson dribbled into the box and blasted a shot past Smith to provide the winning margin.
“I could live without all that excitement, but it was a good result,” said SHS coach Brian Thomas. “It was great to see our girls keep their composure every time Effingham tied the game.”
The Rebels initially took the lead when Jillian Nance beat Patterson in the fifth minute, but Statesboro quickly responded with goals from Sarrat and Thompson. Effingham drew even again in the 17th minute when Van Luren scored from 35 yards out, but neither team got back on the scoreboard until the exciting conclusion of the game.
For the Devils, Tuesday’s win was a great start to a region schedule that will be very challenging.
“It’s big to start off right,” said Thomas. “There are so many good teams in this region. Starting off with a win is definitely good for our confidence.”
That confidence will go well with the experience of a Lady Devils squad that is looking to return to the state playoffs this season. Although SHS has just one senior on the roster, many of the underclassmen — including Sarrat and Thompson — have already seen plenty of playing time.
“I think that many of our girls are farther along than other sophomores or juniors,” said Thomas. “We had some freshmen playing really well out there too. We looked good tonight, so we just have to keep it going and keep improving.”
Statesboro 3, Effingham County 2
The Statesboro boys jumped out to a big lead, but two late goals by Effingham County made the final moments tense as SHS notched a 3-2 victory Tuesday night.
Leading by two goals and having dominated possession for much of the game, it looked like Statesboro put the game away when David Ball’s free kick found the back of the net in the 68th minute, but the Rebels came charging back to make things interesting.
Just two minutes after Ball’s strike, Juan Valdez connected from 20 yards out to get Effingham on the scoreboard.
Then, with just 6:08 to play, the Rebels were awarded a free kick. Valdez sent the ball into the Blue Devil box and Jonathan Slater headed it in to draw within 3-2.
Another Effingham free kick with 1:40 to go threatened to tie the game, but the Statesboro defense turned away two shots to secure the lead and the win.
With the win, the Devils improved to 2-0 on the season and 1-0 in Region 2-AAAA play.
Statesboro took the lead in the 22nd minute when Ball’s shot deflected off two players and past the Effingham keeper.
The Devils widened their lead in the 47th minute when a long throw in from Adam Purvis found an open Ball who headed it in.
Statesboro continues region play Friday as the Devils travel to Augusta to take on Evans.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.