Cleveland and McMinn County battled to a 1-1 tie in the District 5-AAA soccer tournament and made it to the end of the first overtime before lightning put a halt to the match and the field was cleared of players and spectators.
“I wish I had seen it coming. We looked at the lightning and the radar and that kind of led us to the decision to postpone,” said Cleveland coach Andy Byrd. “I wanted to play, but I understand the decision. We needed to make it safe for our players. I respect the decision, but at the same time, I wanted to play through.”
And with good reason.
Byrds’s continuous substitution of Lady Raiders on and off the field for the first 90 minutes seemed to have had the Lady Cherokees worn down and ripe for the picking.
Now, Byrd and the Lady Raiders will never know what might have been the final outcome of Tuesday’s weather-shortened match. The semifinal match is scheduled to pick up at the beginning of the second 10-minute overtime period tonight at 7 p.m. in Athens, with a rested and refreshed group of Lady Cherokees and Lady Raiders.
“We will start with the second 10 (minute overtime) and then we will go to two, 5-minute (sudden death) golden goals (if necessary). So, it will be kind of an entertaining way to finish,” Byrd said.
The Lady Cherokees forced Cleveland into catch-up mode in the 10th minute with the first goal of the game.
In the 28th minute, Cleveland’s Betsy Hobbs tied the game at 1-1. The Lady Raiders put one more in the nylons in the 33rd minute, but the goal was waived off with an offsides call and the score stood at 1-1 at halftime.
The Lady Raiders suffered a blow in the 43rd minute when Hannah Ellis left the game with an apparent leg injury. Byrd said the delay will work in favor of the Lady Raiders in that Ellis will have time to address the injury and return to action at full strength.
The coach also said the Lady Raiders must come back out tonight in the same form they left in Athens after regulation and the first overtime period. The Lady Cherokees will be rested and pushed Cleveland the first 40 minutes. Byrd said that cannot happen tonight with so little time for recovery.
“We are going to have to be on our toes. We cannot come out flat,” said Byrd. “We are going to have to pick up right where we left off in order to finish the way we need to.”