By BRAD KEITH
KENNEDALE — Emily Bates was as good as advertised and Stephenville struggled to finish scoring opportunities.
Combined, that made the difference as Melissa (25-0-2), in its first year of competitive UIL soccer, remained unbeaten with a 3-0 win over Stephenville (21-5-1) in a Region I-4A semifinal at Wildcat Stadium Friday afternoon.
Melissa faces host Kennedale, a 4-3 winner over Abilene Wylie in the first semifinal, at 11 a.m. Saturday. Stephenville was 2-2 against Wylie in District 4-4A, and defeated Kennedale 4-0 in their only meeting.
It appeared Stephenville had scored an equalizer in the final minute of the first half. Bayleigh Chaviers threw the ball in to Skylar Chipman from the left sideline, and Chipman rolled the ball right back to Chaviers just inside the corner area. Chaviers, a junior committed to Miami (Fla.), launched a shot that appeared to stay just below the cross bar and land in the net.
Officials and Melissa disagreed, however, as the ball actually went just over the cross bar, landing in the outside of the net. The Lady Cardinals forced Stephenville keeper Jordyn Howle to make her fourth save of the opening half moments later, and maintained a 1-0 lead at intermission.
Melissa seemed in full control over the final 14 minutes of the first half, despite the stellar efforts of Howle in net for Stephenville. She couldn’t save everything, however, and in the 33rd minute, Bates broke through. The Texas A&M signee, who is club teammates with Stephenville’s Chaviers, headed one home off a throw-in with 7:24 to play in the half, and it ultimately stood as the winning goal.
Howle made a sliding kick save to force the ball to the right sideline to force the throw-in that set-up the header by Bates. She had already stabbed away a point-blank 1-on-1 with Bates, part of a seven-save effort by the keeper.
The outcome began to look bleak for Stephenville when traffic in front of the net led to Amanda Kocsis scoring for a 2-0 Melissa advantage in the 60th minute. Bates dribbled through a slew of defenders and put the final nail in the coffin with her second goal in the 71st minute.
Stephenville generated only random opportunities in the second half, twice with Cline centering passes. Mikayla Hobbs took a shot off one, but Melissa made the save. The other was cleared away without a shot.
Stephenville was in the regional tournament for only the second time in school history and has never reached a regional final. The Honeybees were also knocked out in the regional semifinals in 2009.