FLOWERY BRANCH — The past two campaigns saw the Flowery Branch girls soccer team sitting at home come playoff time.
Now the Lady Falcons are one win removed from postseason history.
The Branch girls dominated Dutchtown 9-0 in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs on Tuesday in Flowery Branch, a performance that clinched the program's second-ever state quarterfinal berth and moved the Lady Falcons within one win of their first "Final Four."
"Before the season started our seniors got everyone together and united the team, and everyone came in more selfless and willing to do whatever was necessary for the team -- that's made a big difference for us this season," said Flowery Branch coach Katie Scali, whose team last reached the "Elite Eight" round of the postseason in 2009.
That unity was on display for all to see on Tuesday, as the Lady Falcons (12-6-1) dominated across the pitch with five different players scoring in front of an assured defensive effort -- though the ball-control displayed by the Branch meant that there was little pressure from a Lady Bulldogs (8-10) team that spent most of the game chasing Lady Falcons shadows.
"We knew after the (first round) Riverwood win that we needed to improve some things, and we wanted to pass ane move better, and we concentrated on doing that today," Scali said.
Indeed, Flowery Branch carved up Dutchtown's backline -- with Caroline Wysocki and Morgan Wadsworth wielding the sharpest blades. The midfield duo orchestrated the Lady Falcons' attack to perfection, taking part in seven of the Branch's nine goals. That included three strikes for Wysocki and two for Wadsworth, while Glorismel Chavez (two goals) and Allyson Lusco and Halie Windish (one apiece) also provided killer finishes.
"We only have Caroline (Wysocki) for half the season because she plays basketball, so she missed the first 10 games or so. But she's jumped in since mid-season and really begun to play well," Scali said of the sophomore standout. "She can dribble, pass, shoot; she has that killer instinct. And the other girls really feed off her energy."
Tenth-ranked Branch will take that energy into a third straight home playoff contest on Friday when they play host to sixth-ranked Starr's Mill (kickoff time TBD), a No. 3 seed coming off a state semifinal run in 2016.
"We know we're going to have to be at our best now," Scali said. "Today was not a normal occurance in the playoffs. But we got everyone to play, and that was great."
The Lady Falcons signalled their intent from the opening kickoff, putting Dutchtown's defense under pressure both through the middle and on the wings. Branch's Ella Reilly gave the referee something to ponder just three minutes into the contest, going down under a challenge inside the Lady Bulldogs penalty area -- though the official waved play on.
Four minutes later Windish lashed a 16-yard shot into the Dutchtown net -- only to be whistled offside as Wysocki played her through on goal.
There even closer near-misses in the minutes that followed, Wysocki heading inches wide of goal before Lusco fired straight at Dutchtown goalkeeper Kambili Ginigeme and then prodding the rebound wide with 25 minutes left in the half.
Once the Lady Falcons discovered their scoring touch, however, the only question became just how many.
Lusco broke the deadlock with 22:29 left in the interval, heading home a rebound from Wysocki's 20-yard drive, and barely two minutes passed before the Branch doubled its advantage. Wysocki again created the opportunity, stealing possession and rifling another shot that Ginigeme palmed into the path of Windish, who popped the rebound into the net with 20:20 left in the half.
The Lady Bulldogs looked to answer through Kelis Pollock and Tamia Roberts, whose surging runs through the middle kept the Lady Falcons from pushing everything into the attack. But Flowery Branch's backline held firm, allowing the Lady Falcons to stay on the front foot. And after a brief lull, the Branch was right back amongst the goals, this time thanks to Wadsworth.
Cushioning a loose ball in midfield, the senior curled a well-measured, 25-yard effort past Ginigeme for a 3-0 advantage with 11:00 remaining in the half. And exactly 31 seconds later it was 4-0 as Wysocki notched her first strike, rolling a close-range effort into the net.
There was still plenty of time for the Lady Falcons, however, and they stamped their full authority on the contest with 7:58 left in the first half as Chavez scored off her own rebound after Wysocki again proved creator, playing the winger through on goal for a 5-0 advantage.
Wysocki was not finished either, and the string-puller turned showman in the second half, chipping an audacious 35-yard effort over Ginigeme's outstretched fingers for 6-0 with 34:42 remaining. Yet the sophomore also maintained her playmaker's role, weighting a pass that allowed Wadsworth to sprint past the Dutchtown defense and slot past a charging Ginigeme for a 7-0 lead with 27:04 remaining. Less than two minutes later Chavez made it 8-0, sticking doggedly to the ball before rolling a close-range effort into the net.
Wysocki bagged a seemingly inevitable hat trick with 20:58 remaining, roofing a 10-yard shot after Wadsworth's floated free kick -- that Wysocki had won -- found the sophomore in just enough space inside the Dutchtown penalty area. The score remained 9-0, as Scali emptied the bench and began turning thoughts toward the quarterfinals.
"The girls have done a great job adjusting all season, and they haven't missed a beat," she said. "We're pumped about the opportunity we have."