FARRAGUT — Maryville stepped on to Farragut’s home pitch believing its best chance to keep its season alive was through its pace on the wings.
A slick, dew-covered field that affected the Lady Rebels’ touches coupled with a Lady Admiral back line that had sunk into their shape led to a first half in which Maryville was on its heels searching for something to work.
An adjustment at halftime changed all of that.
“In the second half, we moved Kayla (Barr) inside because we thought their center backs were sinking a little bit — maybe to make up for the fact that they know she has pace,” Maryville coach Steve Feather told The Daily Times. “We wanted the ball at her feet, and credit Kayla because there are times where we look at her and say, ‘Go, go, go, go, go,’ but what she did was picked her head up and found Olivia (Piercy) and found Taylor Hoag. She recognized that there was space for her to work with, but once people commit to her, she had help.”
Maryville looked more like the team that has reached the Class AAA state tournament in five of the past six seasons in the second period, building toward a 69th minute give-and-go between Barr and Hoag that propelled it to a 1-0 victory over Farragut on Tuesday.
“I knew from the angle I was at that I wouldn’t probably have a good shot because it was on my left foot,” Hoag said. “I knew Kayla was going to get in, so I just kind of hoped for the best and nailed it in there, and she got on the end of it.”
“The play was great,” Feather added. “The ball was to Kayla’s feet, and she exploited that space. Credit Kayla for recognizing when people were starting to swarm her and finding Taylor, who kept her shape and was running onto the ball, and then credit Taylor because you hear all your life, ‘Back post, back post,’ but she picked her head up and saw Kayla was connected and whipped one near post.”
Maryville (12-5-2) did not log its first shot on goal until Barr forced Farragut goalkeeper Caroline Ekern to make a save in the 47th minute, and while that was an early indication of what was to come, it was not the turning point.
That came from Piercy, who slotted out wide opposite of Hoag and provided the runs and touches the Lady Rebels spent most of the first half looking for.
“She was the first forward who I thought took her time to get a touch,” Feather said. “While she didn’t get the winning or cross or anything like that, I thought her runs up the field were keeping Farragut a little more pinned on their side in the second half than they were in the first half.”
It all culminated in one play that featured two perfect runs and two tactical touches to set up a District 4-AAA championship bout with Bearden, the No. 4-ranked team in the country, on Thursday.
“I think we’re really excited because we’re really proud of the outcome we had against them the first time (we played them in the regular season),” Hoag said. “To have another shot at that and try and beat them is all we can wish for.”
Maryville has always viewed the district championship as its most important goal, and while it would like to add a second consecutive title, it is not taking a semifinal victory that allows it to advance out of the toughest district in the state for granted.
“Your heart breaks for Farragut because that’s a good team with good seniors, and it’s just unfortunate that our district is so tight, but it does make it that much more special when you do emerge from it,” Feather said. “This win is super important for us to get organized and put our sights on bigger prizes.”