TUNNEL HILL — As the rain began to pour in the second half of a game that would eventually be interrupted by lightning, Northwest Whitfield High School used a second-half storm of their own to defeat Thomas County Central 4-0 in the Elite 8 of the Class 4A girls soccer state playoffs.
A soggy field from rains throughout the afternoon in Tunnel Hill yielded a 1-0 halftime score in favor of Northwest. A large puddle at midfield routinely slowed the ball and tripped up players as they crossed. With the rain's return in the second, three second half goals pushed the Lady Bruins past Thomas County Central into the program's first Final Four appearance. The Lady Bruins hit the road in Monday's semifinal facing the winner of a quarterfinal matchup of Marist and Perry.
"The rain didn't help, but I think our girls got used to it more as the game went on and were able to play better," said Northwest coach Amanda Moore.
The first half saw Northwest possess the ball for much of the period, but chances to get good looks at the goal were hard to come by.
The lone goal of the first half was scored without much of an opening either, but Northwest's Vanessa Coronel made room where there was none.
After gaining control of the ball near the corner along the end line, she tightroped the line, dribbling between Thomas County Central defenders without letting the ball exit play, and found just a sliver of an angle to slip the ball into the opposite side of the net 17 minutes into the game.
Northwest's Jailyne Martinez got another good look near the end of the half, but her kick inched just wide.
Martinez again threatened with a shot in the second half off of a rebound, but the Thomas County Central goalkeeper jumped back into position just in time to pick up her second save on the play.
With 18:02 left in the game, Martinez finally found the net. Set up from a precisely-placed corner kick from Sophie Hargis, Martinez leapt to head the ball in and give Northwest a 2-0 lead.
That started the on-field storm. Coronel made another excellent pass from the corner less than five minutes later that found Lexi Lyon in front of the net. She corralled the ball, then kicked it in before the ball hit the ground.
Lyon scored again when a lobbed shot managed to sink in behind the outstretched hands of the goalkeeper. Northwest took a 4-0 lead with seven minutes to go, and less than 30 seconds of game time later, the game was delayed as lightning struck just behind the trees outside the playing surfaced. Players and spectators scurried away from the field, but the Lady Bruins returned after the delay to finish off the win.
"She's a true wing, and she knows what to do with the ball," Moore said of Lyon, a freshman.
At the end of the game, the Northwest players and coaching staff celebrated with a dive into that same midfield puddle.
It's the first time Northwest has been in the Final Four in girls soccer. The boys were state champs in 2018.
"It's special for these girls. We kind of felt like the girls last year could have done this, so we're playing for those seniors," Moore said of the season that was canceled last spring because of COVID-19. Moore is in her first year as head coach, and was an assistant on the 2020 squad. "Our mantra this whole year has been 'unfinished business,' because we want to do what those girls could have done."