A shot originally intended to be a crossing pass turned into a highlight-reel goal for St. Mary's.
Junior defender Jordan Curley found the back right corner of the net with a curling, arcing boomer of a shot with 12.8 seconds remaining in the first half to propel third-seeded St. Mary's to a 4-1 win over No. 6 Coal Ridge at the Grace Center on Wednesday night. The Pirates (15-1-1), who improved to 9-0-1 at home this season and have outscored opponents 114-12, will play the winner between Frontier Academy and Colorado Academy in the semifinals on Saturday.
"To be honest, I was going for a cross (pass)," Curley said. "They played really well and were good competition. If we play like we did today and keep it fast-paced, I think we'll be good in the next game."
Curley inbounded the ball to teammate Emily Loof, took Loof's touch pass a split-second later and unleashed a strike from the left boundary that ended a rally by Coal Ridge (16-2) and made it a two-goal game, 3-1, at the half. St. Mary's dominated possession in the second half via a "keep away" approach and limited the Titans' scoring chances down the stretch.
St. Mary's coach Gregg Braha was not surprised at all to see Curley connect from long range.
"That girl's got skills, and that girl makes more goals in practice like that than you can count on two hands," he said. "She just really has a great knack for putting the ball where she wants it."
The teams traded scoring chances early in the first half as they worked to assert their game plans before St. Mary's Michelle Moure' found the net with 9:34 remaining. Maleia Lark took a pass from Kylie Cleary and put the Pirates up 2-0 with 7:31 on the clock.
The Titans battled back, cutting the Pirates' lead to 2-1 on a Paige Ryan goal with 3:26 left in the first half. Just more than a minute later, Amanda Wenzel hit the left post with a shot that would have tied the game, and St. Mary's goalie Tess Thomas made a quality save on another Wenzel strike with 1:05 remaining.
The Pirates controlled the action in the second half, and with Ryan leaving the game with 19:27 remaining with a leg injury, Coal Ridge's offense sputtered in the closing minutes. Loof deposited her team-leading 33rd goal of the season with 9.6 seconds left to end the scoring.
"That's a 2-1 game if we don't score with 12.6 seconds left in the first half and 9.6 seconds left in the game, so you've got to play all 80 minutes," Braha said. "We're lucky we weren't there sweating bullets at the end in a 2-1 game.
It was Coal Ridge's first road loss of the season in nine games.
"There were times when we played brilliantly, and there were times when they played brilliantly and we didn't," Coal Ridge coach Micah Herron said. "(The goal before the half) was pretty big and was unlucky for us. A lot of the balls that sometimes trickle through and deflect our way just didn't go our way today."