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By CASEY OLSON
Decatur will be crashing the Final Four.
The Gators downed the Gig Harbor Tides, 3-1, Saturday night at Curtis High School in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A State Girls Soccer Playoffs to earn one of four spots in the semifinals, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Harry Lang Stadium in Lakewood. Decatur will battle the undefeated and untied Bellarmine Prep Lions at 6 p.m. Friday.
I knew that this was the year, said senior Nicole Collins, who tallied the Gators final goal of the match and controlled a lot of the action in the middle of the field all game long.
Collins and the rest of her teammates might have been the only ones thinking that during the early part of the 2003 season. The Gators started 1-2-1 a year after failing to grab one of the South Puget Sound League South Divisions four spots in the postseason.
We kind of had a rough first half of the season, coach Brandon Frederick said. We are definitely peaking at the right time.
Since that early-season stutter, the Gators have strung together a 14-1-2 record, including a streak of nine-straight victories.
The Gators put together one of their better games of the season Saturday night at Curtis High School to earn a spot into the semis. Decatur got goals from Amanda Meadows, Brittany Gilmer and Collins to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the Tides. Gig Harbors lone goal came off the left foot of Joanie Hamilton in the 57th minute.
The Gators defense was the difference. Decatur played a trapping style that forced the Tides into nearly a dozen offside calls because of Gator defenders moving forward when Gig Harbor passed the ball into Decatur territory.
Our defense played really, really strong, Frederick said. We did a good job.
The offside trap and a ball-controlling offense really limited the Tides opportunities during the match. Gig Harbor really had only a handful of legitimate scoring chances on Decatur junior goalkeeper Kristen Johnson.
We really came out and controlled the game, Fredericks said. We came out strong in the first half and got a goal before the half.
That first-half goal came from an unlikely source Meadows. The junior took a pass from freshman Kelsey Lusebrink off the left wing and broke through the middle of the Gig Harbor defense and flicked a left footer past a diving Jamie Souza to give the Gators a 1-0 lead 22 minutes into the game. The goal was Meadows first of the season.
It was really exciting, Meadows said. It was a perfect pass.
The game remained 1-0 until Collins was tackled inside the Gig Harbor 18-yard box, giving the Gators a penalty kick. Gilmer calmly stuck the shot into the left side of the goal to put Decatur up 2-0 six minutes into the second half.
Three minutes later, Collins tallied one of the prettiest goals of the season off a corner kick from Gilmer. Gilmer sent a perfect ball to the left corner of the penalty box, where Collins headed the ball past Souza for the 3-0 advantage.
I think that is my only header of the year, Collins said. It was an awesome pass.
Following the Collins goal, the Tides were forced into more up-tempo, offense-oriented play. But Gig Harbor could only muster the one goal during the final 31 minutes.
We knew they were going to throw everything they had at us, Frederick said. We just had to stay in control. We came out strong tonight. We got put out of our game plan (last week against South Kitsap) in the first half. I told our captains that we had to come out and make the plays. And we did.
Friday nights game against Bellarmine will mark the Gators third match in a row against a Narrows League opponent. Decatur downed South Kitsap, 1-0, Nov. 5 in the first round of the state playoffs.
But Bellarmine is the best of the bunch. The Lions have developed into one of the better girls soccer programs in the state in any classification. They have won a total of four state championships, with the last coming in 2000.
This year, Bellarmine has racked up a perfect 20-0 record and cruised to the Narrows League championship beating South Kitsap in the league title match. They have a coach who played 23 years of professional soccer on the Irish National Team and for the Tacoma Stars in Joe Waters and the ability, as a private, Catholic school, to recruit some of the best soccer players in the area.
But the Gators can take a lesson from last years Federal Way Eagle squad. Federal Way downed Bellarmine, 2-1, last year in a West Central District match to knock the then-undefeated Lions out of the state playoffs. Federal Way came into the match as the No. 6-seed from the South Puget Sound League, while Bellarmine was 17-0, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, the No. 6-ranked team in the nation and everybodys pick to win the state championship.
Decatur entered this years state tournament as the SPSLs No. 5 seed and proceeded to beat Auburn Riverside (1-0), Mountain View (3-2 in shootout), South Kitsap (1-0) and Gig Harbor (3-1).
Bellarmine squeaked by Bothell Saturday night in the quarterfinal round, 1-0 in overtime. After playing a scoreless 80 minutes, Bellarmine sophomore Janelle Jacka took a pass in the last minute of the second five-minute overtime period and shot it past an out of position Bothell goalkeeper to avoid a shootout. Bellarmine goalkeeper Callie Switzer earned the shutout for the Lions.
The other semifinal will feature the undefeated Richland Bombers (18-0) against Redmond (15-2-3). Richland cruised to the Big Nine League championship and returns all but two starters from a team that reached the semifinals last year. Redmond won the KingCo League Lake Division championship and is led by captain Ashley McDougall (12 goals, four assists). The senior tallied two goals during the Mustangs 3-2 win over Oak Harbor in Saturdays state quarterfinal. Both of Redmonds losses came to Bothell.
Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, firstname.lastname@example.org