Oak Mountain beats Chelsea in battle of No. 1 teams

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

CHELSEA – A battle of No. 1 teams Chelsea and Oak Mountain had everything you could want from two heavyweights on Tuesday, March 12, and despite the 5-3 win for the Eagles, both teams had impressive stretches and a goal scorer with a hat trick.

In the first half, specifically in the first 15 minutes of the contest, Oak Mountain’s Danielle Retief posted four goals to create a buzz in the stands.

That helped the Eagles (11-0, 2-0) take a 4-0 lead that the Hornets were unable to overcome, but thanks to a strong start to the second half from Kailey Littleford, Chelsea (8-1, 1-0) was able to battle back and make it a game as she completed a hat trick with three goals to attempt lead her team to comeback.

With both teams coming into the matchup as No. 1 teams in their respective classifications, Oak Mountain in Class 7A and Chelsea in Class 6A, it had the making of a great game, but early on, the Eagles were the only ones looking like an elite team.

That was thanks to the effort of Retief near the goal, and her teammates speed being almost shocking to the Hornets.

Her first goal came 1:10 into the game when she found herself in the box with the ball, but she originally couldn’t get a good shot off. After the ball sat there for a second, Chelsea attempted to clear it out, but whiffed on the kick, which left Retief by herself, and this time she fired the ball into the upper right hand side of the net to put the Eagles on top 1-0.

With a continued pressing attack offensively, Oak Mountain eventually earned two corners in a row a few minutes later. The first was batted around, and eventually earned a second corner kick.

On that second kick, the ball eventually found its way to Retief in the air just in front of the keeper. With the keeper directly in front of her, she headed the ball to the left and got the ball just past the outstretched leg of a defender in the area to put the Eagles on top 2-0 with 31:30 left in the half.

After that goal, the ball continued to be played on that side of the field and Retief, again, eventually made the Hornets pay. This time, Emi Long and Nicole Payne flashed their speed and were making moves on the right side of the field, before Payne was able to use some dribble moves to get in the box.

Once in the box, Payne quickly got the ball to Retief in front of the goal, who easily put it in the left side of the net with the Keeper focused on Payne. With the goal, Retief had posted a hat trick in the first 13 minutes of the game and given her team a 3-0 lead.

Even more impressive, she posted a fourth goal less than two minutes later. This time she found herself near the top of the box and fired a shot high in the air that brushed the cross bar, ricocheted down and slid over the hands of the goalkeeper into the back of the net for a 4-0 lead with 25:37 left in the opening half.

From that point forward, however, the Eagles started to play a little more conservative, while the Hornets played much better defensively.

While Chelsea was playing better on defense, Oak Mountain’s defense allowed nothing. The Eagles were in every passing lane and didn’t allow the Hornets to get but two corner kicks, one free kick and one good shot on goal, which led to the 4-0 game at the half.

Early in the second half, Chelsea continued pressing the issue and took advantage of a big boost from goalkeeper Mackenzie Titus.

On one end, she made an incredible save by punching a high shot away before Kailey Littleford took advantage 30 seconds later after the Hornets moved quickly up the field. Littleford punched in the first goal of the night for the Hornets with 37:50 to play in the game.

Similar to Retief in the first half, Littleford let that spark her and six minutes later got loose again on the left side of the box for her second goal of the game. All of a sudden, the Hornets had turned it into a 4-2 contest and had some life, but it would be short lived.

Less than 30 seconds later, Payne was able to flash her speed again straight off the kickoff and buried her first goal of the game into the back of the net to put Oak Mountain back up by three goals at 4-2.

Despite the deficit, Chelsea continued to press, and looked much more like a No. 1 team the rest of the game.

The Hornets were able to add one more goal when Littleford scored with 4:37 left, and while that wasn’t enough to pull off the comeback, they looked much more like a No. 1 team in the closing 20 minutes with several opportunities thanks to an aggressive change of tune offensively.

It also marked the first time Oak Mountain had given up more than one goal in a game this season. The Eagles entered the contest having shutout their last four opponents in a row and six of their last seven.

Both are heavy state championship favorites in their classifications as the Eagles remained undefeated with the win, and Chelsea picked up just its first loss of the season.