East Hamilton soccer coach John Millard continually yells at his players to "do the work!" Fifteen minutes into their Region 3-A/AA semifinal Tuesday against 10th-ranked McMinn Central, their work was cut out for them.
The Chargerettes scored twice early in the first half, but by halftime the eighth-ranked Lady Hurricanes had tied the visitors, and an overtime own goal by McMinn Central provided the difference in East Hamilton's 3-2 victory.
East Hamilton (12-6-1) will face Grace Academy (12-6-1), which defeated Arts & Sciences 2-0 in the other semifinal, in Thursday's championship match at Grace. Tuesday's win propelled the Lady Hurricanes one step further than last season, when they fell 1-0 to Boyd-Buchanan despite being favored.
"It's nice for us to go one step ahead of what we've done in previous years," said East Hamilton forward Chandler Smith, who had an assist. "We've already faced a lot of adversity, and to be down two goals and be able to come back and win in overtime feels good."
The adversity started early for the Lady Hurricanes, as a corner kick by the Chargerettes' Ashton Williams slipped through the hands of East Hamilton keeper Kendra Ivins. Nikita Raper put the attempt away for the early advantage, which was doubled when Cayci Coleman scored on a Maddie Young assist.
"We opened up hot," McMinn Central coach Bill McConkey said. "If we had been able to stay that way, we would have been all right."
The Hurricanes answered on goals by Danielle Branham and Yinka Ladapo.
The second half was about endurance and perseverance. East Hamilton had plenty of opportunities, but McMinn Central's aggression on defense led to nine offside calls against the hosts, wiping off two Ladapo goals.
In the second 10-minute overtime, Branham had a corner kick that deflected off teammate Peyton Rauth and then off defender and over keeper Taylor Young's head for the deciding goal.
"There were times I didn't think we'd be able to pull through, and I think we were able to prove to a lot of people that we could come back," Smith said.
"I'm proud of the girls," Millard said. "They were able to battle back in this match, and I don't think many people thought that we could."