RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Early Friday morning, Heritage girls' soccer coach Stacy Dunfee channeled her inner Ice Cube with a text sent to her team.
"I told them, 'Today is a good day,'" she said.
Twelve hours later, that proclamation came true on the pitch.
Paced by a standout defensive effort, the Lady Generals advanced to the second round of the Georgia Class AAA state playoffs with a 3-0 victory over West Hall. Heritage (12-1) will travel to face Veterans (15-3), which defeated Crisp County 7-0.
Dunfee praised the play of defender Kansas Carpenter and keeper Amber Burton, who was credited with seven saves -- six in the second half when West Hall started to pin Heritage back on its heels.
Burton had two saves on corner kicks in which she leaped high over the opposition to snag the ball.
"I always had confidence in my defense -- and my hands," Burton said. "I told myself I was going to go get the ball whenever I had a chance tonight."
Dunfee and assistant coach Dana Bridges could only wish they shared Burton's confidence at times. Heritage's slow start had the coaches slightly worried, but Courtney Bell started the relaxation process with a goal in the 25th minute off a rebound of her own shot, initially saved by West Hall keeper Alex Smith.
That lead carried into the second half, but West Hall (12-6) started to become aggressive. It wasn't until Heritage's second goal, by Shelby Mullinax on an assist by Blair Harden, that the entire team took a collective breath.
"It was one of the most physical matches we've played all season," Dunfee said. "We got the lead, and I think for a while we relaxed and West Hall really came at us. Once we got the second goal, we really picked our intensity back up.
"I thought we did a good job recollecting ourselves."
The 10th-ranked Lady Generals got an insurance goal from Katelyn Beekman in the final minute, but in the closing seconds Harden went down with an injury. She had to be helped off the field after the match was over.
"It was a fight to the end," Dunfee said. "Tonight was the most physical match we'd played in. That concerned us early on, but some of our players stepped up and played the best matches they'd played all year."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.