MURFREESBORO, Tenn.—A day after looking invincible, Signal Mountain’s big, physical team proved to be Grace Christian’s kyptonite, as the Lions fell 1-0 in the semifinals of the TSSAA Class A State Soccer Tournament on Wednesday afternoon at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex.
Eagle midfielder Jimmy Johnson scored the game’s only goal at the 17:24 mark of the first half, sending GCA home on a muggy day with temperatures in the high-80s. It was the only one of six shots on goal that Lions keeper Alex Nordhoff didn’t save.
That was good enough, as Signal Mountain limited Grace Christian to four shots on goal.
The Lions (18-3) had the best record of the eight teams in the field. Grace Christian came off a 10-1 demolition of Frederick Douglas the previous day.
“Signal Mountain’s a good, disciplined team. They were much bigger than us,” CCA coach David DeFatta said. “They did a good job, they were disciplined, they shut us down. We had few chances on goal, and the few chances that we did have, their keeper played great.
“So, hats off to them on a great win, a great plan, and good luck to them in the next round.”
The Lions beat you with speed and winning one-on-one battles, and Signal Mountain just wouldn’t allow it. Opportunities in space were few and far between for GCA.
“Our touch looked off. We were a step slow, it seemed like. I don’t know if it was the heat, or what, or nerves. But yeah, (Signal Mountain) did a great job. We generally create 12, 15 opportunities on goal, and we’re pretty high-percentage finishers.
“So it was absolutely frustrating, but I was still proud of those guys. They did a great job.”
Grace Christian played the second half on the lower end of a slightly-tilted field in the second half. It also had the better scoring chances in the period.
GCA defender Samuel Jones, who was terrific all day, helped thwart was nearly a breakaway opportunity for Signal Mountain early in the second half.
Minutes later, GCA got one of its best scoring chances of the day when midfielder Malachi Jones had a shot deflected by Signal Mountain keeper Joseph Galea.
Not long after that, he missed right trying to bounce a header past Galea.
Then, things turned physical. That worked to GCA’s detriment.
Signal Mountain midfielder Aiden Newton and GCA’s Samuel Jones were both issued yellow cards for rough play at the 63:43 mark. Both came off the field, and Jones returned two minutes later.
The scoring chances started to dry up late in the game for Grace Christian. However, the final one may have killed the Lions’ chances.
With just under four minutes left, there was a loose ball to the left side of the Signal Mountain box. Galea got there just before Malachi Jones did, but couldn’t hold it. Jones inadvertently kicked Galea in the ribs and was sent off with a red card with 3:45 left.
That forced Galea from the game for senior keeper Josh Pickett, who didn’t face a shot.
Grace Christian spent a lot of time with possession on the Eagels’ end early in the first half. But with four, sometimes five, Signal Mountain defenders marking forward Samuel Berrionuevo, scoring chances were scarce.
GCA did a good job of limiting scoring chances early. But the field seemed to tilt in Signal Mountain’s way from about the 15-minute mark of the first half on.
Shortly thereafter, Signal Mountain forward Cadyn Hudson crossed one from the left side to Johnson, who struck one past goalie Alex Nordhoff for a 1-0 lead at the 18-minute mark.
It nearly got worse.
With four minutes left in the first half, and Signal Mountain holding possession in the Lions’ box, Nordhoff made a nice, diving save to deflect a shot.
Nordhoff lay helpless on the grass with the ball still loose in front of the goal, when senior defender Caleb Fish made the perhaps best play of the half for GCA by deflecting the ensuing shot, which appeared to be on goal.
A bright future for Grace Christian
GCA’s season ended Wednesday, as did the high school careers of Nordhoff, Fish, midfielder Stephen Jordan, defenders Eli Lee and Noah White.
But young stars Levi and Malachi Jones were just eighth-graders, and Samuel Jones is a junior. You can expect that the Lions, who more than held their own against teams above their classification, to be a force again next season.
DeFatta reflected on that, and how far the school has come in just a few years of existence, afterwards.
“Our seniors, their freshman year, we won the Impact Championship, and we felt that was the biggest thing in the world. Four years later, to be here at the state tournament, coming up one goal short of playing in the final, it’s hats off to them.
“(We’re) looking forward to the future, we’ve got a lot to build off. We’ve got a couple of guys coming back, some guys that didn’t get to play a lot for us this year that will be big impact players for us next year. So, we’re looking forward to a good summer in the weight room, getting back out there in January for conditioning, and getting ready for the next season.”