BY DAVE LINK
CHATTANOOGA – Beaten and bruised, the Cumberland Gap girls’ soccer team left Red Wolves Stadium a proud bunch Saturday afternoon.
Merrol Hyde Magnet of Hendersonville defeated the Lady Panthers 4-0 in the Class A state championship match, winning its second consecutive state title.
The Lady Hawks (20-2-1) and Cumberland Gap (19-2-2) are not strangers at state.
Merrol Hyde beat the Lady Panthers 5-1 in the 2020 state quarterfinals and finished state runners-up that year to Signal Mountain.
“Despite the end there, I am so proud of our team,” senior forward Aly Ramsey said. “We had a Bible study about an hour before we left (for Saturday’s game). We just read off a lot of scripture and we just told each other, regardless of the outcome today, we were going to be super proud of each other.
“I mean, going from losing first round (quarterfinals) to being in the finals, I know we lost, but I’m so proud of them. They fought through injuries and so much to be here, so I’m proud of all of them.”
Cumberland Gap senior midfielder Carlie Napier played with badly sprained ankle Saturday and starting goalkeeper Breanna Mason left the game late in the first half with a neck injury.
“There was a collision down there at the goal,” Cumberland Gap coach Lorri Kimbrough said. “I think that girl kneed her or kicked her in the back of the neck.”
Mason was replaced by freshman keeper Jenah Yonts.
“We were so beat up after the game Thursday night (a 3-0 win over Chattanooga Arts & Sciences),” Kimbrough said. “We’re not 100 percent. We might be 70 percent. They gave their hearts out there. We just couldn’t hang with them there for a while.”
Cumberland Gap had 11 shots (six on goal), while Merrol Hyde had 18 shots (eight on goal).
Mason had two saves and gave up two goals before exiting the game.
Yonts also had two saves and gave up two goals.
“I had to put in my freshman (Yonts),” Kimbrough said. “That’s all I had. She was scared to death. It’s a tough job for a freshman, but she did well.”
Ramsey had four shots against the Lady Hawks, three on goal.
She finished her career with a school-record 175 goals, including 57 this season.
Ramsey was the focal point of the Merrol Hyde defense.
“They had two and three players on her every time she touched the ball,” Kimbrough said, “and it’s hard to do anything.”
Cumberland Gap started the game with several shots, all saved by keeper Hadley Marshall.
“We had four good shots right off the bat, and the keeper made an incredible save on Aly’s shot,” Kimbrough said.
Merrol Hyde had a 2-0 halftime lead after goals by Reagan Hudson and Gianna Cruz.
The Lady Hawks made it 3-0 in the 49th minute on another goal by Hudson.
Sydney Rewa scored in the 56th minute for a 4-0 lead, and Merrol Hyde was on its way to another state title.
“It just didn’t go our way,” Ramsey said. “We had a few opportunities, but it just wasn’t our night.”
That didn’t dampen the Lady Panthers’ state tournament experience.
“It’s very exciting,” Kimbrough said. “I’ve got 10 seniors, and they have worked hard. They worked so hard to get here. This was their goal, to get here. We knew it would be Merrol Hyde. We just hoped we wouldn’t be on the same side of the bracket with them.”