Coach Andy Byrd’s team put two goals on the scoreboard in the first period and the defense shut down the Lady Cherokees the rest of the way.
Senior goalkeeper Alison Simpson and her teammates matched the Lady Cherokees with five saves for the game, but the Lady Raiders doubled up the visitors on shots on goal with 12. None of McMinn’s six shots on goal were serious threats.
Cleveland, the tournament’s No. 2 seed improved its record to 12-6-2, with one of the ties coming in a 1-1 standoff with McMinn County in the regular season.
The Lady Raiders advance to Thursday’s 7 p.m. district championship match against highly ranked Soddy-Daisy. The Lady Trojans, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, eliminated fourth-seeded Ooltewah Tuesday, 3-0, and will be the host for the title match.
Both teams in Thursday’s 5-AAA final will advance to Region 3-AAA play next week against the survivors of the District 6-AAA tournament. Thursday’s game between Cleveland and Soddy-Daisy will be for a home-field advantage in the regional opener.
“We played well and our defense was solid,” coach Byrd said after Tuesday’s victory.
The Lady Raiders’ coach feels his team is peaking at the right time, and his younger players are displaying newfound maturity.
“Our freshmen are stepping up and playing like sophomores,” said Byrd. “That’s what we need (here at tournament time).
“Offensively, we need to sharpen up what we’re doing a little bit, but defensively we’re playing very, very, very well.”
Byrd and his coaching staff are blessed with a talented mix on this year’s team. There are seven seniors with experience and ability to provide a solid foundation. Then, there is a very talented group of freshmen who have played well all season. Five sophomores and eight juniors add to the mixture.
One of the juniors, midfielder Kaitlyn Poulakis, got the Lady Raiders off to a good start Tuesday ... as she has in several matches this season. She worked the ball away from a McMinn County defender and hit a shot over the McMinn goalkeeper less than 10 minutes into the game.
Both teams played well over the remainder of the first half. The Lady Cherokees put considerable pressure on the Cleveland defense, but couldn’t get on the scoreboard.
The Lady Raiders added an insurance goal with 14:05 left in the opening half. Freshman Hope Haas dashed down the right sideline, got the soccer ball by a defender and took her shot. Haas’ shot was knocked down, but freshman Bayleigh Ellis was on the spot and put the ball into the net and Cleveland enjoyed a 2-0 lead at intermission.
The second 40 minutes was mostly Cleveland, with perhaps 80 percent of the action taking place on McMinn’s end of the field.
The Lady Raiders had several chances to score, but couldn’t finish off their shots.
“We’ve got to learn to finish,” Byrd said of his offense. “On defense we’re playing great, but we’ve got to sharpen the offense.”