GPS's hopes of a dream soccer season had a nightmarish ending Saturday on the Bruisers' home field.
A penalty kick by Father Ryan's Sarah Bossung 55:48 into the match led to the Lady Irish defeating the Bruisers 1-0 in the TSSAA Division II-AA state final.
Father Ryan ends up state champion with a 12-5-5 record. But the Lady Irish worked their way through a postseason gauntlet to get the title, starting by beating the West Region's No. 1-seeded team St. Agnes in the sub-state. St. Agnes and GPS both had beaten them 1-0 during the season.
"My girls had a tough road," Father Ryan coach Robin Dieterich said after winning his third title at the school. "We had to face the No. 1 seed in the West, then Baylor, the No. 2 in the East/Middle, then today the No. 1. We were always playing a higher-seeded team. For us just to be here was an accomplishment."
The Bruisers' loss was their second all season. The other was to Class AAA Oak Ridge in their first match of the year.
"We couldn't figure out how to play our game," GPS coach Leland Strang said. "We couldn't find a rhythm. They were well-organized. Tonight I just think we let our emotions get the best of us."
No more so than midway through the second half when keeper Savannah Williams got tangled with the Lady Irish's Kalyn Pruett. Words were apparently exchanged, but Williams went a step further and took a swing that she acknowleged landed.
After some lengthy banter with an official, Williams received a red card. With the incident taking place inside the box, Father Ryan was awarded a penalty kick, which Bossung slipped past reserve keeper Savannah Phillips into the right side of the net.
"Obviously, opportunities like that don't come around very often," Dieterich said. "When they do you've got to grab them."
The Lady Irish had a 13-7 edge in shots. Keeper Mary Lauren Moss made two saves on the way to her shutout.
Williams made two saves before exiting, which left the Bruisers with one fewer player on the field for the final 24:12. Phillips, a lacrosse player who had never played soccer before this year, drew praise from Strang for her effort, which included four saves.
"It was such a success of a season," said Strang, whose team ended up 15-2-2. "I still believe this team has the heart and enthusiasm to make them champions. They'll learn to fight harder and fight next year. All year they had a dream, a passion and a goal, and fell short. They'll learn from it and do better down the road. I'll learn from it, too."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.