CUMBERLAND GAP — The homestanding Panthers jumped to a 2-0 halftime lead, expanded it to 3-0 in the second half, and snapped Oneida’s streak of three consecutive District 3-A championships here Thursday evening.
The Panthers scored goals 20 minutes and 30 minutes into the game, then added a relatively meaningless goal with two minutes remaining to make the final score 3-0.
“We inched a little closer,” Oneida coach Phil Newport said after the game. The Lady Indians lost at Cumberland Gap in the regular season by a 6-2 score, after the Panthers jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first half.
“(Claire) Burress had about 23 saves and she played pretty well in the net,” he said. “Two of their scores were great shots that we just didn’t close out on.”
Newport said he challenged his team at halftime and they responded.
“We competed very well in the second and we missed a few good shots to score,” he said. “Although we did not have as many shots, the ones we got were nice looks. We just did not put them away.”
Oneida is learning to adapt to its youth. The Lady Indians have four seniors but rely on a bevy of sophomores, especially in the front. One of those sophomores, Aliyah Douglas, was named the district’s offensive player of the year, but she is drawing a lot of defensive attention and forcing Oneida to look for production elsewhere.
“I hope others can find the net as well as her,” Newport said.
Cumberland Gap entered the game undefeated, and was finally able to get over the hump against Oneida after losing to the Lady Indians in the last two district championship games.
“We know the task is to play 80 solid minutes because they are undefeated for a reason,” Newport said. “I still think we can close the gap between us if we can find some health. We seem to be adjusting better.”
It has been an injury-plagued season for Oneida. The Lady Indians have had players on the field in casts with broken arms — sophomore Kenlee Duncan and senior Laurel Blount. They lost sophomore Kamryn Kennedy for most of the season to an off-the-field accident, though she has since returned to the lineup. Junior Caroline Keeton is out for the remainder of the season with an ACL injury. Sophomore Myia Dunlap has also been lost to a knee injury.
Thursday’s game was no exception to recent trends, as both Kennedy and sophomore Alexea Jones suffered ankle injuries. Jones missed the entire second half.
“I hope they recover over the weekend,” Newport said. “We will have to wait and see.”
The Lady Indians will travel to Greenback on Tuesday for an elimination game in the Region 2-A semifinals. The Cherokees defeated Polk County on Thursday, 4-2.
Newport said he would immediately start scheming for Greenback, which enters the game with an overall record of 12-6-1.
On paper, the game appears to be a winnable one for Oneida. The Cherokees lost to Cumberland Gap in the season-opener, 6-2. They also lost to Kingston, 4-1. Oneida tied the Yellow Jackets, 3-3. Greenback also lost to Rockwood, 3-2. The Lady Indians split with Rockwood, losing 3-2 in overtime and winning 3-0 in overtime. Another common opponent is Oliver Springs. The Lady Indians defeated the Bobcats 3-0; the Cherokees beat them 5-0.
Tuesday’s game will kick off at 6:30 p.m.