The two combined for some head-spinning moments in their team's last home game of the season Thursday night. Speese and Smith created every goal in the Wildcats' 3-1 win over defending champion Mount de Sales in a GISA Class AAA state quarterfinal. Westminster advances to next week's state semifinals at Stratford Academy in Macon.
Speese and Smith's goals chronologically: Speese threaded a ball to Smith deep in the penalty box that tied the score; Smith flicked a header off a long pass 10 minutes into the second half that sprung Speese for a breakaway; Smith held the ball inside the penalty box well enough to draw a penalty kick that Speese rocketed into the left corner.
As nice as these offensive moments were -- and the first two drew gasps from both sets of fans -- coach Mike Freace said he felt his team also won the game with strong play elsewhere.
"We won this game defensively," he said. "We were especially strong (defensively) in the second half. ... It's a team game, and those (three) goals all started from other spots on the field."
Westminster, which won its sixth consecutive region title this season, lost at home in the state quarterfinals last season.
Freace said that defeat motivated his two senior starters: defenders Breck Ardrey and Stephanie Zimmerman.
The two seniors, Speese and eight freshman or eighth-graders make up the Wildcats' starting lineup.
Speese, a sophomore who is being recruiting by some of the top soccer programs in the country, controlled the midfield with quick, left-footed touches. She placed the ball wherever she wanted: whether she was targeting Smith in the middle or playing the ball in front of the speedy Frances Plunkett on one flank.
"The first goal was maybe our fault, and they created the second (goal)," said Mount de Sales coach Iain Jones, whose Macon team defeated Westminster twice earlier in the season (1-0 on March 7, 2-1 on March 13).
"Mike is a good friend of mine, and he made some great tactical adjustments in the second half. ... They deserved to win."
Jones said the third goal, a penalty-kick call with 18:48 left he disagreed with, "took the wind out of us."
Asked whether the third goal allowed his sideline to breathe easy over the final 18 minutes, Freace chuckled.
"Not until the last 30 seconds," he said. "Soccer is such a fickle game."
Ardrey, a center back, deflected the Cavaliers' best chance in that span, hurling her body in front of a shot aimed at the left corner of a wide-open goal.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com.