The final high school soccer match for seven GPS senior starters was everything they could have ever dreamed of.
The Bruisers poured on three goals in the second half of Friday's TSSAA Division II-AA state final to handily defeat Briarcrest Christian 4-1 at CHI Memorial Stadium, with the Chattanooga program making the most of what amounted to a home-field advantage.
After scoring the lone overtime goal of a 2-1 semifinal win against Hutchison on Thursday, GPS forward Sasha Carbone had said the title match would be a moment "to go big or go home." Her performance Friday and the short trip required to reach the venue in East Ridge essentially allowed her to do both.
The sweet taste of victory began to set in when Carbone scored her third goal in the 74th minute, providing what proved to be the final margin. Fellow senior Kennedy Ball, having already played a part in the team's first three goals, made one final connection with her close friend, offering an unselfish pass in close for Carbone's last score as a Bruiser.
Ball then raised her hands to her head, signaling Carbone's hat trick to the large and ecstatic pro-GPS crowd.
"I think that was just the perfect way to cap off our high school years together," Ball said. "This game just means so much to us as seniors. We have played with each other for so long. We were all on the same page, and this was just meant to be."
GPS vs. Briarcrest soccer on Oct. 28, 2022
It's the third title in program history, with the first coming in 2014 and the second in 2018, when the roster included eighth graders Ball, Carbone and Hayden Wise. GPS reached the semifinals last season and in 2019 and lost the 2020 title match 3-2 to Father Ryan on a late goal.
Senior center back Ally McVay got the Bruisers (14-2-1) going early against Briarcrest (14-1-1) when her pass ignited a fierce run down the right sideline by Wise in the third minute. Wise exploded past the defense to reach the end line, where her cross to the middle of the box found Ball, who flicked the ball with the back of her heel perfectly to Carbone on the left side to hammer it in for the 1-0 lead.
Wise made a habit of beating the defense from the right forward position, doing so again in the 46th minute. She again crossed the ball through the box, where Ball fooled the defense by letting it roll through her legs to the streaking Carbone for a 2-0 cushion.
"That play has been our thing from the start of the season in practices," Wise said. "Dribbling down to the end line and passing it right across the six. It's exactly what we have practiced, and for it to happen twice in a row today was so awesome.
"We really deserve to be here and deserve this win. We played our hearts out. Especially the seniors, who have been waiting on this moment for so long."
The lead became 3-0 in the 55th minute when McVay struck a 50-yard free kick to the keeper, who lost a challenge in the air with Ball, who booted in the score on an open net.
McVay was sharp defensively throughout, as was fellow senior center back Megan Jones, who had impressive takedowns and clearances along with Blair Ford — yet another senior and the only Bruiser to play all 80 minutes.
"This was so nerve wracking," McVay said. "But so worth it. We held them off, and to win this and go out on top is so amazing."
Briarcrest scored in the 68th minute as Madeline Carter assisted on Alyssa Tinsley's goal, but a minute later the Saints were turned away by a nice save by freshman keeper Farah House, who had five in the match as GPS finished with a 21-10 shooting advantage, including 13-6 on goal.
Another strong run by Wise helped set up the final scoring sequence involving Ball and Carbone, who shared a long embrace.
"That meant a lot to get that last assist from Kennedy for the hat trick. The final one," said Carbone, who matched Ball with eight shots in the final. "Everything we have ever done in our soccer careers was for this moment. What a way for our seniors to go out."
With fans piling in for pictures and one even having a pair of cleats signed by Ball, GPS coach Patrick Winecoff savored the moment with his special state championship group.
"We have been training years for this moment," Winecoff said. "That was four class goals goals today that our girls scored. We subbed a bunch today, and the girls were fit and ready to leave their mark.
"This is three finals for the girls in the last five years. It shows you the class they've got. They are great players. From the backs to the forwards and everybody in between."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.