Spain Park girls headed back to soccer Final Four

Spain Park High School senior goalkeeper Lauren Arnold will have only one thought running through her mind over the next week.

It isn’t her upcoming high school graduation. It won’t be her impending collegiate destination, Clemson University, in the fall.

Arnold can only think about the Jaguars capturing a second-consecutive Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A girls’ soccer championship following Spain Park’s 1-0 win over Oak Mountain to seal a spot in the semifinals May 1.

“It would be a perfect ending to my senior season,” Arnold said.

Spain Park (21-4-2) will play Daphne in the Class 6A semifinals May 7 at John Hunt Park in Huntsville. The championship game is scheduled for May 8.

Arnold and the Jaguars survived a physical battle with the Eagles, which featured two Oak Mountain yellow cards, in the second round of the playoffs to earn a spot in the Final Four.

The two teams, which split two Class 6A, Section 5 matches during the regular season, played to a 0-0 tie after the first 40 minutes.

Arnold made a diving save on a free kick by Oak Mountain senior Borden LeSieur from 20 yards out with just over 18 minutes remaining in the first half to keep the Eagles off the scoreboard.

Oak Mountain (16-6-2) saw the first scoring opportunity in the second half within the first 10 minutes.

Arnold came out to defend a rush by the Eagles and tripped, leaving a wide open net behind her. An Oak Mountain shot sailed a few inches wide of the net on the right side with a swirling wind pushing the ball away from the net.

“I thought it was going in,” said Spain Park coach Robert Starr.

Spain Park scored its only goal of the game just a few minutes later. Gillian Garver sent a ball deep into Oak Mountain territory and Cavanagh Baker was in the right place at the right time to put the ball into the right side of the net to give the Jaguars a 1-0 lead with 24:35 remaining in the game.

Oak Mountain coach Kelly Clayton, who tearfully addressed her team after the loss, knew the game would come down to the final minutes.

“It’s always been a tremendous rivalry,” Clayton said. “The girls played with a lot of heart. Spain Park is a great team. We had one mistake and they capitalized.”

Starr, who sat out the Jaguars’ run to the Class 6A title in 2009, said he’s looking forward to the trip to Huntsville.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” Starr said. “We’re proud of it and we’re excited about the Final Four.”