By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Battle of Flag City on the pitch featured three teams.
Normally a soccer game has two opponents. On the surface of Hornets Field in Millington, it appeared the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebels were talking on the Millington Lady Trojans. But a new trend for the visiting Lady Rebels made it seem another squad showed up after halftime
“We are a second half team,” TRA Head Coach Stephen Starnes said. “For some reason we like to turn it on. I’m not sure I like that. But if the girls getting it going, they get it going.
“It’s not a defensive approach, it’s an offensive approach,” he added. “We tend to push the ball better in the second half. We tend to move the ball better. Our girls finally settle in.”
Once the Lady Rebels settled in the flow of the game, a 4-2 halftime advantage blossomed into a 9-2 victory over the rival Lady Trojans.
“You all might think we’re a second half team,” Lady Rebel senior Brianna Hall said. “But at the beginning of the season we were more of a first half team. He told us to step it up. We needed to start playing better in the second half and we’ve all stepped up. It all starts with defense. Our defense got way better in the second half and defense wins games. That’s how we got up on a run.”
The victory over Millington improved TRA to 3-2 overall. In the first week of action in the 2020 season, the Lady Rebels would come out blazing and fade away in the final 40 minutes.
Then an Aug. 25 matchup against the Covington Lady Chargers saw the Lady Rebels hold a 4-3 halftime lead before winning 8-3.
“We’re a new team and we’ve got a lot of new girls this year,” TRA sophomore Emma Grace Pence said. “But we’ve also got a lot of seniors. Putting that all together and as we continue to grow together, play more games together, it’s all about us moving. Soccer is a game you play off the ball.
“A lot more of your work is off the ball than on the ball,” she continued. “Just as we keep growing like today, in the second half we played a lot better off the ball than we did on the ball. I feel like for us that can much us a much more consistent team.”
Pence scored the second goal of the game after Hall broke the scoreless tie at the 8-minute mark. After a Lady Trojan goal made the tally 2-1, TRA senior Emily Crane increased the advantage back to 2 points with a goal. Millington once again trim the deficit to a point with a breakaway goal. Hall tried to create some breathing room for he Lady Rebels scoring a goal right before halftime.
Pence came out firing in the second half with a pair of goal with one coming off a penalty kick. TRA was ahead 6-2. Hall achieved a hat-trick moments later with her third goal of the game.
“Emma and I have been playing competitive for however long,” Hall noted. “In that we’ve learn to play off the ball. You can’t just do it all on the field yourself, we have to help each other out. I’m going to pass the ball and do the best to get open. If she has the ball I’m going to do my best to get open along with everybody else. And if I have the ball, I know she’s going to do the same.”
The other Lady Rebels started to move around Hornet Field as a cohesive unit creating two more goals to make the final 9-2.
“I’m looking at everything through fresh eyes,” Pence said. “I just came from Middle Tennessee, so all of this is new to me. Watching this team from the first day of summer workouts to now, I think we’ve just grown together.
“The girls who haven’t been playing as long as us have grown exponentially,” she added. “If we’re playing with the same determination we played against ECS this past Thursday, if we play like that every game with the same heart I think we can go very far. This team has the girls who want to do and we have seven seniors who have worked their tails off to do it this year.”
Starnes said if his team continues to gel, the Lady Rebels will be an 80-minute team and possible do something special in 2020.
“It may be a little too early to say on that,” he concluded. “I’m not going to say anything about a run or where we might end up. But this team is special. This is a different team. This team has a lot of heart. And this team plays harder than most other teams do.”