GLOUCESTER — Leslie Coates remembers the last time Denbigh's girls soccer team made it to the Eastern Region tournament.
It was 2009. Coates was just a freshman, and senior Dani Gunderson was Denbigh's main offensive threat, registering 33 goals entering region tournament play. Now, Coates is in a similar position.
She's Denbigh's current goal-scoring machine, and she and her teammates have one more step to climb before they can lead Denbigh to the same spot Gunderson took the Patriots in '09.
On Monday, Coates helped Denbigh clear a huge obstacle by knocking in two first-half goals in the Patriots' 2-0 upset of Peninsula District tournament top seed and home-standing Gloucester in the tournament semifinals.
"This game was more important, I guess, because it could've been our last game," said Coates, a senior who has scored eight of Denbigh's last 10 goals. "There's like seven seniors on our team, so we pushed up a lot and tried our hardest."
While Gloucester already is in the region tournament by virtue of winning the district regular season title, Denbigh (7-4-1) will have its chance to nail down a region tournament berth Thursday at 5 p.m. when it plays Menchville in the district tournament championship game at Gloucester High. Menchville, the No. 2 seed, defeated No. 3 Woodside 2-1 in Monday's other semifinal.
Coates got Denbigh on the board with 30:10 left in the first half when she dribbled past a defender inside the box and belted a successful shot. Denbigh, which won just one game last season, extended its lead to 2-0 with 25:33 remaining in the opening half when Coates scored off a free kick from 19 yards out.
"That was that distance that's dangerous with her taking the shot," said Gloucester coach Bob Fisher of Coates' second goal. "It's just a great shot for her from that distance.
As expected, Gloucester (10-3-1) pushed up in the second half, possessing the ball for most of the final 40 minutes and taking 12 shots on goal. Goalkeeper Hannah Devereux had five saves in the half.
"I don't mind so much that we lost because I think looking in the eyes of those girls they are in shock," Fisher said. "That's going to be one of the best learning tools that I can then use as a coach."
Before Denbigh's victory, Menchville (9-1-2) also used a strong offensive first half to claim its tournament semifinal win against Woodside. Tori Browne and Jamie Alcodray scored first half goals to lead the Monarchs.
Browne opened the scoring with 30:47 left in the opening half by drilling a shot into the upper right corner of the goal past diving goalkeeper Gabriella Verdelotti. Woodside (9-5-2) evened the score with 21:57 remaining in the half when Sarah Watson sizzled a shot over goalkeeper Danielle Walker's head from 25 yards out.
"Our biggest problem was we didn't shift quick enough," Woodside coach Eduardo Timas said. "In this game, shifting from one side (of the field) to the other side is essential. You have to do it. You can't go halfway."
Alcodray scored the decisive goal with 12:35 left when she scored on a short-range shot from inside the box. Woodside's fans screamed for an offsides call prior to her shot, but the official's flag didn't go up. Woodside couldn't find any room to get off a shot in the second half.
"I really attribute them not getting any opportunities to our defense," Menchville coach Dennis Zollicoffer said.
"I think that (defense) is really the core of our team, because those outside defenders often move up and they press the attack to help our offense."
NO. 4 SEED DENBIGH 2, NO. 1 GLOUCESTER 0
Halftime: 2-0. Goals: Coates 2. Shots: Denbigh 6, Gloucester 18. Saves: Denbigh, Devereux 9; Gloucester, Hogge 1. Records: Denbigh 7-4-1, Gloucester 10-3-1.
NO. 2 MENCHVILLE 2, NO. 3 WOODSIDE 1
Halftime: 2-1. Goals: Menchville, Browne, Alcodray; Woodside, Watson. Saves: Menchville 11, Woodside 4. Saves: Menchville, Walker 2; Woodside, Verdelotti 5. Records: Menchville 9-1-2, Woodside 9-5-2.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun