To some, Allie Sullivan's free kick in the final seconds of Chattanooga Christian's soccer match Thursday seemed to be suspended in air for a lifetime. But Notre Dame goalkeeper Natalie Graham had to work on a different time schedule: Her instincts had to kick in immediately.
Graham knocked away Sullivan's shot, preserving Notre Dame's 1-0 victory in the District 7-A/AA championship match -- the Lady Irish's first win in their last five tries in the series.
Notre Dame (8-2-5) will host Smith County (17-3-1), which lost 3-2 to Central Magnet in the District 8-A/AA title match. The Lady Chargers (12-3-4) will travel to the Murfreesboro school.
CCS's Allie Vannoy was fouled prior to Sullivan's kick. The ball clanged up against the side post after Graham's deflection, and Laura Champion knocked the ball away. Graham, who is a first-year starter, admitted she never saw the ball hit the post.
"It was just a quick reaction," she said. "It means a lot for us to win this, and to be able to step in and fill a role on this team is amazing."
The Lady Irish sneaked in their goal in the 33rd minute, as Emma Higgins assisted fellow freshman Sofia Olenchek. The game was dominated by Notre Dame in shot count but by the Lady Chargers in possession.
"I thought we possessed the ball quite well," CCS coach Cal Sneller said. "We had a good buildup and some good chances to score. We just got lost on the one goal."
The teams were in a similar situation last season, with Sullivan hitting a free kick in the final moments of the district championship to win the match. Notre Dame coach Jim Schermerhorn was pleased to be on the winning side this time.
"I guess there was just a little luck on our side tonight," he said. "We defended well, but we kept giving it away offensively. It was a little frustrating, but I'm happy with the win. It's good to win here."