After exploding past Frederick Douglass High School in the state tournament opener, the Grace Christian Academy soccer team was bottled up by Signal Mountain in the State A semifinals Wednesday in Murfreesboro.
The young Lions, who start three eighth graders and four freshmen, battled the bigger, veteran Eagles, but came up short 1-0 ending their season just short of playing for the school’s first state title.
“Three years ago, I never thought we would be here,” GCA senior Caleb Fish said. “I mean we were still co-ed a few years ago. Our goal was to play together as long as possible and this is as long as God wanted us to play together.
”I thank him for every game and every practice I got to play with these guys.”
Signal Mountain scored the lone goal of the contest in the 17th minute when Jimmy Johnson received a cross from teammate Cadyn Huddleston for a tally. The Eagles, who are playing in the state tournament for just the second time, advanced to face Gatlinburg-Pittman for the state championship Friday.
The last time Signal Mountain advanced to state in 2014, two of their current starters were just eighth graders as well, including one of two 6-foot-4 defenders which frustrated GCA attackers all afternoon.
“I thought it was a very good game, though, and they really gave us all we can handle,” Eagles coach Michael Goza said. “It was one of the rare times when nervousness and panic didn’t overwhelm playing good soccer for both teams.
“If there is any advantage that we have is that we have two guys who are about 6-4 that can stand in the middle of the back and one played basketball. So, if you put in the air, they’re very good in the air.”
The lengthy defense allowed just 10 shots with four on goal for the Lions, who are more accustomed to having a dozen or more shots on goal per contest. They had 15 shots on goal in a 10-1 win Tuesday and averaged 5.3 goals per game entering Wednesday.
“Signal Mountain is a good physical team and they are much bigger than us,” GCA coach David DeFatta said. “They were disciplined and they just shut us down. We had few chances on goal and the chances we had, their keeper did great.”
Eagles keeper Joseph Galea recorded four saves before exiting in the final minutes after colliding with Malachi Jones. He made two second half saves where the Lions out-shot Signal Mountain 6-4.
GCA came out in the second half firing.
Levi Jones had a low, hard ball stopped by Galea on the left side in the 48th. Brother Malachi Jones missed on a header after a good ball from Kaden Nordhoff in the 63rd, while Shewit Worton’s shot from the top of the box just three minutes later was stopped as well.
Alex Nordhoff finished with four saves for the Lions. The keeper is one of five seniors for GCA.
“Looking toward the future, we have a lot to build off of,” said DeFatta, whose team closed with a 19-3 record. “We have a lot of guys coming back. We are looking forward to a good summer in the weight room and getting out there in January for conditioning to be ready for next season. … I’m still proud of these guys. They did a great job.”