Class AAA Championship Soccer

State Soccer: Late score lifts Ravenwood into championship despite sloppy conditions

Lady Raptors force fourth 'Battle of the Woods' for the title

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2019 State Soccer – Ravenwood vs. Houston, Class AAA Semifinals .

Nora Henderson, Maddie Gleason, Lauren Hiatt, Mia Fraser, Sarah Rath and Sarah Cloud

MURFREESBORO – Marcela Forero Pretto knew she had just one more opportunity late in Thursday’s Class AAA state soccer semifinal.

Despite playing in a giant puddle at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex, the Ravenwood junior tracked down a long ball from teammate Sarah Cloud and shed two slipping, sliding Houston defenders before launching a right-footed rocket to the upper right of the goal.

“I just took my time and tried to stay composed,” Pretto said after lifting her team to a 1-0 victory and Class AAA championship berth with her tally in the 76th minute. “This is so rewarding … We worked so hard for this.

“This was a really hard battle and we all wanted it so bad and we got it.”

The Lady Raptors will face District 12-AAA nemesis Brentwood Saturday for the state championship. The Lady Bruins blasted Maryville 6-0 in the other rain-drenched semifinal.

Ravenwood reached the final for the first time since 2013 when they fell to Houston. The Lady Raptors also avenged a semifinal loss to the Lady Mustangs last season by advancing past the two-time defending champs.

“These girls had the belief that we can win against anybody and anything can happen with hard work and teamwork,” Ravenwood coach Brandon Mead said. “We were able to pull it off again. I’m just so proud of them.”

Mead and the Lady Raptors had a whole extra week to prepare for Houston after the TSSAA postponed the entire state tournament last week due to weather. All teams enjoyed sunny skies in the first round Wednesday, which included a 4-1 Lady Raptor win against Stewarts Creek, but another storm system doused the area Wednesday night and continued through the early matches Thursday.

“We really didn’t know what we were walking into until we got out on the field,” Mead admitted. “We definitely had our tactics in place before we got here, but then everything changed when we saw the conditions with the standing water.

“We knew it was just going to be a grind and we had to fight it out.”

Houston controlled the tempo early and out-shot Ravenwood 7-1 in the first half despite the dismal conditions, which included a field switch prior to kickoff. Still, corner attempts had to be moved because deep puddles twice in the first half alone.

Ravenwood senior Tori Case had a different outlook on the chaotic playing environment. 

“The moment I came out here, I looked at everyone and said it’s going to be so fun,” she said. “It’s just a mess. I loved it.”

There were some smiles scattered among the Lady Raptors. Even Ravenwood keeper Faith Vanston acknowledged a fan when asked how she felt. 

"I'm too cold to move," she said. 

She did, though, and collected six of her nine saves in the first half, including a string of three straight stops beginning in the 17th with an attempt from Madeline Eskin. The veteran keeper stepped up in the slop for another stop in the 20th and then batted away another Eskin shot two minutes later when the Houston senior fired a long ball that had to be pushed over the crossbar for the leaping save.

Ravenwood managed just one shot attempt in the first half. However, the Lady Raptors recovered and out-shot Houston 10-5 over the final 40 minutes.

“They believed in each other throughout the whole year and it’s now coming to fruition playing in the state final,” Mead said. “It’s just incredible to see all these happy faces.”

After Pretto’s tally with just under 3:44 to play, Ravenwood fended off the final surges from Houston, which included one long shot from Eskin that was snagged by Vanston.

When the final horn sounded, the girls rushed the field. Parents and other fans in attendance eventually joined in the celebration, which included head-first slides in the mud. 

“It’s insanely exciting,” Case said. “I can’t believe it. It’s a dream come true for sure.”

Ravenwood will face Brentwood in the Battle of the Woods for the fourth time this season on Saturday at 11 a.m. The Lady Raptors are one of just three teams to even score against the unbeaten Lady Bruins this season. They fell 2-1 in the district championship on Oct. 17 at Brentwood.

“We are going to give it all we got and try to come out on top,” Pretto said. “We’re looking for revenge.”

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