It took six years, but Athens finally broke through to the Class 5A championship game Friday afternoon with a 5-2 win over Briarwood. After five consecutive losses in the state semifinals, Grace Morgan’s hat trick pushed the Lady Eagles into Saturday’s championship game against Chelsea.
Morgan scored a pair of goals, two minutes apart in the first half, followed by a third goal that put the game away 13 minutes into the second half. Morgan’s first two goals were break-aways, as Briarwood struggled keep up with the speedy junior.
With eight minutes remaining in the first half, Ashley Ward played a through ball down the left side, which Morgan controlled in full-stride behind the Briarwood defense. Her side-footed shot beat Briarwood goalie Haley Hawkins from nine yards out for Athens first score.
Morgan’s second effort was the best of the three as she beat two Briarwood defenders and hit a slow roller to the near-post to give Athens a 2-1 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half.
“Grace played a great game,” said Athens head coach J.B. Hutchison. “She has been consistent for us all season. It was one of our best games this season. When we got down, they never gave up.”
Despite the lopsided score, Briarwood actually struck first 17 minutes into the first half. That goal seemed to wake AHS, who pressured the Lions for the remainder of the first half.
“When we get down like that, we always pick each other up,” said sophomore Riley Ridgeway who assisted Morgan’s third goal.
What had been a close game for a half soon became a route as Juli Owens extended the lead to 3-1 just three minutes into the second half. The midfield hit a shot from 30 yards out that found Hawkins off her line and gave Athens a two-goal cushion.
Morgan completed the hat trick ten minutes later with another superb strike from the right side of the 18-yard-box. Morgan’s sister, Kate Morgan, was responsible for Athens final goal from a corner kick. The freshman’s right-footed corner hit a Briarwood player at the near post and bounced in the goal.
Athens advanced to play Chelsea in Saturday’s championship game at 10 a.m. from John Hunt Park.