Sunday May 29th, 2016 7:49AM

Soccer: Lady Knights fall to Chamblee in AAAA playoffs

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
OAKWOOD -- Johnson girls soccer coach Phil Higgins and the Lady Knights came into Wednesday's matchup with Chamblee in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs searching for their first playoff win in nearly a decade.

It's becoming as hard to find as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Chamblee scored three second half goals to break a 1-1 halftime tie and pulled away for a 4-1 win and knock out the Region 7-AAA No. 2-seed Lady Knights.

Uncharacteristic shaky defensive play and and a physical Lady Bulldogs squad proved too much to overcome for Johnson on a rainy field at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.

"That was not representative of how we have played, especially over the last five weeks or so," Higgins said. "We had some breakdowns and they took advantage. They were a little more physical than we thought they would be."

Chamblee (11-5-1) next will play the Columbus-NW Whitfield winner next Wednesday in the second round.

Despite the loss for Johnson (11-7-1) it was a remarkable season that saw the Lady Knights start the season 0-5-1 only to win 11 of their last 12 games to grab the No. 2 seed in a very competitive region.

"I'm proud of how the girls responded after the start overall," Higgins said. "We've played better (than tonight) but the girls hopefully can take some confidence into next year."

The Johnson girls have not won a state playoff game as a program since 2005, the the second of back-to-back years of advancing into the second round. Higgins said he feels the program is headed in the right direction.

"Our goal is not just to get in the playoffs but to win games in the playoffs," he said. "We felt we had a good chance against Chamblee but we just didn't play like we have over the last half of the season."

The Lady Bulldogs went on the attack early bringing their defenders into the offensive zone. They forced the Lady Knights into three turnovers in their own territory but could muster only one crossing pass that was denied by the Johnson defense.

Johnson would use that to counter-attack with Hannah Hester streaking down the left side and crossing to Chandler Steele, who managed a shot that was stopped by the Chamblee keeper Lindsay Wilson.

Chamblee generated the first corner of the game seven minutes into the first half but a header attempt sailed wide of the goal.

Chamblee nearly took the first lead on a long direct kick from midfield by Tyler Johnson, who sent a high bouncing ball that nearly curved over the head of Lady Knights' keeper Hannah Hodge. But Hodge was able to punch the ball out at the last second to keep the game scoreless.

Chamblee, however, would eventually strike first, taking advantage of the fifth Johnson turnover in its own end. Ally Jones stole a pass and then lofted a looping pass to Louise McGirt, who one-timed it past a diving Hodge for a 1-0 lead with 22:26 left in the first half.

Johnson would pick up the offensive pace over the next seven minutes generating two runs and one corner but could not find the net.

The Lady Bulldogs had a solid chance to take a two-goal lead with 15 minutes left in the half when Kamilah Mustafa got a breakaway off a high-bouncing pass. But Hodge was able to cut off the angle and deny Mustafa a clean shot.

Johnson got a counter of its own to finally pay off late in the first half. A long pass into the Lady Bulldogs end produced a foul on a direct kick for Logan Dumanowsky.

Dumanowsky lofted an arcing pass to the goal, which bounced off Wilson. Steele was Johnny-on-the-spot and able to slide a shot off the deflection past Wilson to tie the game at 1-1 with 8:35 left in the half.

The first half would finish that way as both teams missed chances to take the lead in the final two minutes of the half.

In the second half the Lady Knights narrowly missed out on taking the lead in the opening six minutes when Evelin Aviata deflected Hester's crossing pass to within 5-yards of the goal just over the crossbar.

Johnson continued to press the action in the early stages of the second half generating two more scoring opportunities. But a direct kick by Steele sailed just wide from 30-yards out and a high-bouncing pass aimed for Steele was snared by Wilson inside the box.

The Lady Bulldogs would again capitalize on a Johnson defensive mistake in its own end to take the lead for good.

McGirt was able to gather a loose ball off a deflected Johnson pass and steer a shot past Hodge for a 2-1 lead with 27:06 left in the game.

That came moments after Mustafa was able to run down a long pass down the right side. Mustafa would lose control but the Lady Knights were not able to clear the ball out of the box.

McGirt had a chance for the hat trick seven minutes later but missed on a point-blank-range shot after dribbling through and around the Johnson defense.

What McGirt didn't finish, Kerstin Thule did just two minutes later. After McGirt again was able to dribble through the Johnson defense, Hodge and a defender collided and Thule was able to knock in the rebound for a 3-1 lead with 18:03 left.

The Lady Bulldogs finished it with a breakaway goal by Mustafa with 37.9 seconds left for the final score.

NOTES: Johnson had its six-game home winning streak snapped with the loss . . .The Lady Knights had allowed just 11 goals over last 12 matches before Wednesday. . .Chamblee has held teams to one goal or fewer 12 times in 17 games in 2014. . .The Lady Bulldogs are now 5-4 on the road in 2014.
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