The Salem High girls are just two wins away from a state soccer championship, and they won’t have to leave the city of Salem in pursuit of it. The Group 4A state championship tournament is being held at Kerr Stadium on the campus of Roanoke College.
While it’s not a true “home” advantage for the Spartans, it’s not bad. They won’t have to worry about getting up early or enduring a long bus ride.
“We’ve never played at Roanoke College, so it’s not really a home field advantage,” said Salem coach Josh Jones. “But the girls are familiar with the field and we should have plenty of fans there.”
By VHSL rules Salem is not allowed to practice on the Kerr Stadium field this week. They’ll take the field at 10 am Saturday as the second seed from Region 4A West after losing at Jefferson Forest last Friday in the regional championship game, 1-0. Salem will play the Region 4A East champion, Jamestown.
Jefferson Forest, the 4A West champ, will play the noon semifinal game on Saturday, taking on King’s Fork of Suffolk, the 4A East runnerup. The championship game is at 12:20 pm Saturday, and take note since that was originally scheduled for 2:40 pm but moved at mid-week due to avoid conflicts with school graduations.
Salem coach Jones doesn’t know much about Jamestown, except that they beat King’s Fork 1-0 in the 4A East final.
“At this point everyone is good,” he said. “It just takes one goal.”
The Spartans found that out last week, as they won a big game, 1-0, then lost another by the same score. The critical game was the one against Loudoun County last Wednesday, as Salem took a 1-0 win to clinch a berth in the state Final Four and end the Raiders’ season.
This was a classic matchup, pitting the 2016 Group 4A state champion Loudoun County team against the Spartans, who lost to the Raiders in last year’s championship game at Liberty University by a 1-0 score. This time the game was in Salem, and it was as good as advertised as the two teams battled to a scoreless first half. Loudoun County had the edge in field possession but couldn’t get the ball past a stout Salem defense.
The first real break of the game came early in the second half when Loudoun County was awarded a penalty kick. However, Salem freshman keeper Katie Evans saved a shot low and to her right to keep the game scoreless.
Finally, the deadlock was broken with eight minutes on the clock. Salem’s Hannah Coulling won a ball and knocked it to Mallory Edwards, who left-footed a shot just above the outstretched keeper’s hands and just below the bar. The home crowd reacted to the “one timer” and that was all Salem needed to win despite getting out-shot 23-7 for the game.
“The girls played really hard,” said Jones. “It felt good to come out on top after losing two close games to them last year. I thought our defense did a great job. They didn’t have any uncontested shots.”
The win put Salem in the Region 4A West championship game against the region’s top seed, Jefferson Forest, on Friday. This time it was the opposition who scored the only goal in a 1-0 game, as the Cavaliers connected just two minutes into the contest. A shot hit off the crossbar and a follow up shot resulted in the game’s only goal. Again Salem was out shot for the game, this time 14-8.
“A lot of the game was played a midfield,” said Jones. “In these post-season games one goal is really big. At this time of year, it only takes one.”
Salem will take a 17-2-2 record into this weekend’s final four action.