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Tuscola soccer closes out season with playoff loss

May 18—Tuscola soccer saw their season come to an end in the first round of the state playoffs, dropping their match against Oak Grove 3-1.

"I don't feel like walking off of the field that it was anything that we did wrong. We just played a good team," Tuscola coach Ray Sugg said. "I was pleased with them. I'm excited about next year."

In the first half, the teams battled back and forth. The Mounties had several scoring chances in the first 40 minutes.

"I honestly don't think they expected much from us," Sugg said. "The first half we played very even."

As the teams got closer to the halftime buzzer, Oak Grove managed to strike first.

But, just as it had against Pisgah, giving up a goal seemed to energize the Mounties.

"When they scored just before the half, we woke up and had several scoring chances," Sugg said.

Those chances led to an equalizing goal late in the half. Sophomore Avery Roten found junior Gracie Rinker on what Sugg described as a "beautiful pass" that split the defense.

Rinker slotted the shot away, giving the junior her 14th goal of the season.

That 1-1 scoreline is how things would stay heading into the locker rooms.

"It was a very winnable game at that point," Sugg said.

The second half went much differently, however.

The Grizzlies scored two goals in the second half and held Tuscola scoreless to grab the 3-1 victory.

"Second half they were getting a little more possession. We had some girls that had great first halves that just didn't play with the same confidence in the second half," Sugg said. "In the second half, we saw why they had 13 wins. They are a good team. If we played them four times, we could beat them once."

Oak Grove was able to close the game out with strong defense. Any time a Mounties player would get possession, the Grizzlies would close the distance quickly.

"They know how to finish a game. We're still struggling with that because we haven't been in that position a lot," Sugg said. "In the second half, [Oak Grove] played with more confidence and intensity"

The loss ended the Mounties campaign, which saw Tuscola finish second in the Mountain 7 — their best conference finish since winning the WNC Athletic Conference in 2017. That 2017 title was the Mounties' seventh in eight years.

"We were really hoping for a home (playoff) game and we were close. We gave it a good run there at the end," Sugg said. "Our goal was to not get mercy-ruled. In the last game of the regular season last year, they got mercy-ruled at home. The second one was to cut down the amount of goals we allowed. We almost cut it in half from last year."

All of that came after some early struggles in the season.

"Early in the year, we were still figuring out who our goalkeeper was and how to work together on the offensive end to score goals," Sugg said. "We got better at that. We learned who could score and what position to play how we want to play."

The team will look to build on the successes of Sugg's first season at the helm next year.

Sugg said he's already looking forward to the next campaign — already having an idea of how the team can play and who can play where.

"We're way ahead of the curve coming into next year," Sugg said. "We're going to start from where we left off."

Part of that will include finding a way to replace the departing seniors.

Senior Anna Roth was a rock in the middle of the defense all year, playing every minute of every game.

"That's an iron man right there," Sugg said. "She never wanted to come out. She never performed poorly because she was tired either."

Another senior, Reese Sund, was coming off of an ACL injury last season.

"Reese Sund had one of her best games all year," Sugg said of the senior's performance in the playoffs. "It makes you think what it could've been if she was healthy all season."

But for now, the Mounties will learn from the season-ending loss and prepare for next season.

"Next year, we'll try to build on our success from this year."