Spain Park girls advance to playoffs despite loss to Spartans

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

MOUNTAIN BROOK – Everything was on the line for the Spain Park and Mountain Brook girls soccer teams on Tuesday, April 23, when the two teams met to determine the second-place team in Class 7A Area 6 and which would advance to the postseason.

After taking down the Spartans at home on March 19 by a final score of 2-0, the Jaguars had the upper hand heading into the matchup.  A win would have guaranteed them a spot in the playoffs, while a loss would have set up a tiebreaker situation.

With the tiebreaker coming down to goal differential, all Spain Park had to do was lose by two goals or less to still cement a spot in the playoffs, but a Mountain Brook win by three or more goals would have put the Spartans in the postseason.

The Jags, however, got off to the exact start they needed to in the opening period of the game.

Spain Park controlled the ball for the majority of the half, but it was an exciting stretch of back-and-forth play 12 minutes in that led to the first goal of the night.

After Mountain Brook got into the box and was about to get a good opportunity, physical defense led to a steal from the Jaguars. Instead of just looking to clear the ball out of the zone, the Jags pushed it up field where Jasmine Greene eventually ended up with the ball just to the outside left of the box facing the goal.

She fired a shot directly at the keeper to the near post, but a sprawling save sent the ball trickling to the right side of the goali box.

That’s where Haley Greene and a Mountain Brook defender went for a full on sprint toward the ball with it sitting in front of an open net thanks to the keeper still on the ground from a great save.

They were neck and neck, but a last-second slide from Haley connected with the ball and sent it directly into the lower right portion of the goal for a 1-0 lead.

Now, a defense that had only given up more than three goals three times this entire season was going to have to give up four unanswered to not make the playoffs.

Mountain Brook, however, wasn’t going to be counted out, and put together a valiant run of its own.

With 7:32 remaining in the opening half, Mountain Brook’s Claire Brian, who was celebrating her birthday, got a special gift when she fired a shot on goal well wide of the right side of the box.

Her shot went toward the far post and careened off the post before trickling back toward the goalie and crossing the line for a goal just before the keeper grabbed it tying the game at 1-1.

For some reason, that one goal seemed to cause the Jags to hit the panic button despite having to give up three more goals, but the Spartans took advantage of the momentum change and were relentless the rest of the first half.

With continued pressure from the Spartans on the Jags back line, Mountain Brook got close several times over the next few minutes and with 3:15 to play in the period, Ella Nichols was able to take advantage of getting into the box by firing a shot into the net for a 2-1 advantage.

Then, to add even more chaos, less than two minutes later, the Spartans grabbed another goal. After the Spain Park keeper failed to secure a shot, the ball bounced right to the head of a Mountain Brook player, who buried a header into the back of the net for a 3-1 lead.

Now, all of a sudden, things had gotten interesting. Not only was Mountain Brook leading by two goals at the half, but they were just one goal away from a playoff spot with all of the momentum in the game.

For the first 14 minutes of the second period, the game featured intense pressure and nerves from both, but Jaguars started to press a bit more knowing what would happen if they gave up another goal.

Eventually, the Spartans were dribbling up the field just inside their own zone, but a turnover ended up with the ball on the foot of the always dangerous Haley Greene.

Having already scored one goal, and come close on several others, she took the ball, sprinted up field and got just inside the box before firing a shot from close to 16 yards out into the back of the net to cut the Spartans’ lead to 3-2.

With 20 minutes remaining, Mountain Brook came close on a couple of chances just in front of the goal, but the Jags created a wall of defenders to prevent a goal from being scored before eventually clearing.

The same happened with 17:50 left in the game when the Spartans earned a corner kick, but a header from the far side went just right on the shot before eventually being cleared again.

From that point forward, the Jags were able to play keep away thanks to a continued aggressive attack that prevented Mountain Brook from scoring again.

Despite the 3-2 loss, the Jaguars had done enough to at least earn a spot in the playoffs thanks to the strong second-half surge.

The Spartans had an unbelievable effort that almost ended with them in the postseason thanks to that impressive run in the first half and a hard-fought effort the rest of the night.

For the Jags, they’ll now get the gift of No. 2 ranked Oak Mountain in the opening round of the playoffs on April 30 at 7 p.m.