Gate City’s Megan Edwards (12) heads the ball over John Battle’s Kylie Smith, the goalie, and Samantha Johnson (5) to give the Lady Blue Devils a 1-0 lead in Friday’s Region D title game. (Ned Jilton II photos)
BRISTOL, Va. — It was a sweet night for Gate City soccer at Sugar Hollow Park in the Region D finals Friday night.
The Blue Devils girls and boys cruised to championship victories over John Battle and Lebanon, respectively.
Megan Edwards scored both goals to lead the Lady Blue Devils past the Lady Trojans 2-0.
In the nightcap, Caleb Herron had three goals for the Blue Devils, who trounced the Pioneers 6-0.
The wins propel the Gate City teams into Tuesday’s VHSL Group A quarterfinals, also at Sugar Hollow Park.
The Lady Blue Devils (17-0-1) will host the Region C runner-up at 5:30 p.m. followed by the Blue Devils (18-0-0) taking on Galax (20-1-0) at 7:30.
It didn’t take long for the Lady Blue Devils to get the upper hand against the pesky Lady Trojans. Battle (15-3-1) was the only team to put a blemish on Gate City’s record during the season, posting a tie against the Lady Devils.
In the 16th minute, Gate City’s Kayce Raines lofted a ball into the penalty area that took a high bounce. Battle goalkeeper Kylie Smith charged out to get the ball, but before she could, Edwards headed the ball over Smith and into the net.
The half ended with Gate City holding a tenuous 1-0 advantage.
Determined to even the score, the Lady Trojans came out in the second half and forced the issue.
“They gained a lot of momentum in the second half,” Gate City coach Chris Mann said. “It was all we could do to hold them off.”
Battle took 17 shots in the second half, but managed to get only three of them on goal. That proved costly in the end.
“I thought we were a bit unlucky in the second half,” Battle coach Colleen Johnson said. “We had so many chances but just couldn’t follow through.”
On a counterattack in the 67th minute, Edwards was pulled down inside the 18 and awarded a penalty shot. She slipped her PK past Smith, and the Lady Blue Devils had just enough breathing room to outlast the Lady Trojans.
“I didn’t make up my mind where to put the shot until I kicked it,” a relieved Edwards said. “Battle is such good competition for us. They forced us to come together in the second half.”
Outgunned Lebanon kept pace with Gate City’s boys for most of the first half.
Tucker Alley poked a slow rolling ball past Lebanon keeper Trevor Owens in the 13th minute to put the Blue Devils on top 1-0.
It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes of the first half that Gate City was able to gain some separation.
Neth Gardner scored a nifty goal in the 30th minute off an assist from Tanner Alley. Herron made it 3-0 eight minutes later when he pounced on a loose ball in front of the Lebanon goal and blasted it into the net.
Herron added two second-half goals to a tally by Wesley Byrd to set the final margin of victory.
“Lebanon gave us two of our toughest games this year,” Gate City coach Eric Baker said. “We knew they’d be a challenge for us tonight.”
Herron, a sophomore, just returned to the starting lineup after rehabbing a muscle injury. His performance Friday showed he has returned to top form.
“They released me from rehab this morning,” said Herron, who earlier this season set a VHSL state record by scoring 10 goals in a game. “It’s good to be back at full speed.”
Gate City’s next opponent, Galax, suffered its first loss of the season on Friday, falling 2-1 to Radford in three overtimes.
“Tonight we moved the ball well and communicated better,” Herron said. “We’re going to need to continue that. The speed of the game will pick up dramatically next week.
“The way we’re playing right now I think we have a good chance to move on,” he added.