Laura Harris turned her leg to the side as she stood off the field Thursday at Stratford. Amid the blades of wet grass and specks of mud that had attached to her upper right calf sat a healing two-inch gash with small blue threads holding it together.
Surrounding the larger wound were dots of black-and-blue marks of various sizes intermingled with other smaller scrapes and cuts. For three games, Harris felt anger and bitterness at the scars, forced to sit on the bench and watch as her FPD teammates tore through the early part of the playoffs because of them.
But those wounds she received three weeks ago made her a hero at home. Little did she know that she’d be a hero again when she returned to the field.
Harris scored two goals in a 4-0 victory over Augusta Prep in the Final Four of the GISA Class AAA playoffs, keeping FPD undefeated with a 22-0 mark. The Lady Vikings earned a spot in the AAA title game and will face Westminster on Saturday night.
“I was so excited to get to play with my favorite team,” Harris said. “Before the game, I just couldn’t control it. I was so excited to get to play with them again and not just watch from the bench.”
What landed her on the bench took an audacious move. At home before the start of the playoffs, Harris noticed that one of her dogs — a larger mixed breed — began viciously biting one of her smaller ones. Acting quickly to save the smaller dog, Harris ran to break up the scrap. To do so, she grabbed the bigger dog by its teeth and pried the smaller dog away from its mouth.
When the larger dog got free, it turned on Harris, sinking its teeth into her leg several times before relenting. The injuries weren’t too serious, but they were bad enough to keep Harris, a senior captain, from providing her teammates with much more than verbal support as they coasted to the Final Four.
On Thursday, Harris didn’t waste much time in making her teammates thankful she was back on the field. After FPD missed two prime scoring opportunities with an open shot wide left and another that hit off the crossbar, Harris was tripped and awarded a free kick. Past the 18-yard box, Harris lined up and noticed Augusta Prep’s goalkeeper out of position. With a strong kick with her injured right leg, she deposited the ball high into the right side of the net before wildly celebrating with her teammates.
“Once you score the first goal, then the team believes you can just keep pushing, and it will come,” Harris said with a smile.
The belief and confidence that Harris provided came at the right time. Augusta Prep’s defense stymied FPD’s potent offense early on. Kelsey Black and Rebecca Miller — FPD’s leading scorers — were able to find chances to score, but the Cavaliers’ defense was too much at times.
While much of the first half was played in Augusta Prep’s end, the Cavaliers’ defenders forced a stalemate as FPD couldn’t seem to find a way past them.
“I knew (FPD) had some offensive firepower,” Augusta Prep interim head coach Daniel Mealing said. “Holding them to one goal (in the first half), with it being wet and sloppy out there, just one mistake, and we’re right back in it.”
That mistake never came. In fact, FPD looked even more dangerous to start the second half, and it didn’t take long for the Lady Vikings to prove it. Less than four minutes in, Miller found Black racing down the left side near the goal. A high, bending shot found its way into the top right corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Harris quickly scored her second goal of the game with a header on a corner kick from freshman Kim Caitlin Alderman. Minutes later, Melissa Hash nearly provided an instant replay of Harris’ goal with a header of her own off another corner kick from Alderman to put the game out of reach.
“We’re trying to get our own identity, and if something happened five years ago or this year, I think they’re just hungry to win,” FPD head coach Josh Trieste said of surpassing Stratford’s record of 21 consecutive wins in a season. “I haven’t stepped on the field yet this year and felt like we weren’t going to win.”
FPD 4, AUGUSTA PREP 0
Goals: PD: Laura Harris 2, Kelsey Black, Melissa Hash.
Assists: FPD: Rebecca Harris, Kim Caitlin Alderman 2.
Saves: AP: Crissy Hefron 9, Morgan Robertson 1; FPD: Hannah Crawford 4.
Shots: Augusta Prep 7, FPD 20.
Records: Augusta Prep 16-5; FPD 22-0.