Sacred Heart edges Episcopal

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Senior forward Sarah Martin scored two goals as top-ranked Sacred Heart of New Orleans rallied for a 3-2 girls soccer victory over fourth-ranked Episcopal on Friday night at EHS.

Episcopal took a 2-1 lead into halftime in a rematch of last season’s Division III state title game.

Sacred Heart defeated the Knights 2-0 in February to win its third straight state title and fifth title in nine years.

Sacred Heart (7-2-2) tied it at 2 in the 52nd minute on a follow shot by sophomore midfielder MJ Williams. Episcopal senior goalkeeper Moira Fontenot had blocked a shot by Martin but could not control the ball, and Williams alertly found the ball and put it in.

In the 76th minute, Martin fired a close shot to the right side of the net off an assist from Lucy Gille for the winning goal and a 3-2 lead.

Episcopal (10-3) was in position to score another goal a minute later when senior defender Caroline Goodner’s sideline throw-in went over the head of Cardinals keeper Megan LeBlanc. But the Knights failed to get a foot on the ball and the defense cleared the ball.

“We were extremely disappointed with our lethargic play in the first half,” Sacred Heart coach Tooraj Badie said. “We just weren’t ready to play. We adjusted and played much better in the second half. We started to possess the ball better, we weren’t rushing our passes and our defense started to tighten up in the back.

“I was impressed with Episcopal. Episcopal was extremely aggressive and had a great game plan. They were to the ball first. They were a handful.”

Episcopal coach Matt Shelton said Sacred Heart is the best team his squad has played this season and facing such a quality team was a good learning experience for his younger players.

“Sacred Heart is talented and technical all over the field,” Shelton said. “They’ve got good speed and will spread you out. It was good for our girls to see their championship-like level of play. Our goal is to play Sacred Heart again in the state championship game.”

Episcopal senior outside midfielder Nicole Newton beat two defenders and scored from 10 yards out with her left foot in the second minute to put the Knights up 1-0. It was the 17th goal of the season for Newton.

Martin used her speed to score from 12 yards out on a diagonal shot in the 14th minute and tie it at 1. Williams had the assist.

Senior Summer Rhynes sent a pass wide to Newton in the 30th minute. Newton hustled to gather the ball near the left sideline and send a hard shot to the front of the net where freshman Taylor Coleman tapped it in as the Knights led 2-1.

“Nicole beat two players to score early, and she had a great run to set up our second goal on another combination play,” Shelton said. “Scoring early gave us confidence.”

Martin’s play impressed both coaches. She has 22 goals on the season. A four-year starter, Martin was the MVP in the state championship game as a freshman.

“Sarah Martin is a special player. Period,” Badie said. “She was injured for most of last year. She’s a joy to watch when she’s on.”

“Sarah Martin is one of the most dangerous forwards out there,” Shelton said. “She’s good technically and has got the speed to go with it. They can find her. You can’t key just on Sarah, then they’ll find other players. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”