Two of Cleveland soccer's underclassmen combined to give the Lady Raiders a chance to play for a district championship with a goal Tuesday. But it was their senior class that made sure that happened.
Sophomore Sam DeBien's score in the 19th minute gave the visiting Lady Raiders what turned out to be the difference in a 1-0 victory over East Hamilton in the 5-AAA semifinals. Cleveland (12-7-1) will face McMinn County, which defeated Soddy-Daisy in the other semifinal, in Thursday's championship match at the McMinn County Soccer Complex.
DeBien's 20th goal of the season came on a corner kick. She had an open-goal opportunity when junior Sohara Perez collided with East Hamilton keeper Abbey Saddler, with the latter having to sit out the rest of the game as a result of the play.
"I think that today, things started to come together for this team," Cleveland coach Andy Byrd said. "We knew we would have to grind this one out -- and it was a battle -- but I feel the better team won tonight."
After the score, Cleveland's seniors played a vital role in getting back to a district championship after being defeated in the semifinals a year ago.
"This senior class, we all balance each other out with different personalities," senior Lorne Conn said. "We all have different takes on things, but we all have the same goal -- to win."
East Hamilton's season began with the loss of sophomore midfielder Nicole Ford. Its end included Saddler's loss, but the Lady Hurricanes still earned a second-place finish in their first season in 5-AAA, playing with mostly underclassmen.
"I know the girls played well. I also know that I asked a lot out of the leaders and the young players," East Hamilton coach John Millard said. "We asked the young girls to do things they shouldn't have to do yet, but I'm proud of how they did, doing what we asked them to do. They shouldered it well. I just hate that things ended up the way they did."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.