Tornado runner-up finish ‘a blessing in disguise’

What a ride.

In its inaugural appearance in the state soccer tournament, the first ever for a Blount County school, Alcoa fell, 4-2, to Christian Academy of Knoxville in the Class A/AA championship game at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex.

The loss stung the Tornadoes, especially so after senior Andrew Mitchell had given Alcoa (18-6-1) an early 1-0 lead on a left-footed blast in the ninth minute. After the six-time state champion Warriors took a 2-1 lead at the half, freshman Austin Stone equalized for the Tornadoes when play resumed, beating the Warrior goalkeeper with a bender over the wall from 22 yards that rocked the stadium.

Christian Academy rose to the occasion each time and was a deserving champion, but the story of Alcoa’s historic state tournament run is much, much bigger than a championship game loss.

On three magical days for Alcoa soccer, goalkeeper Adrian Womac, midfielder Eric Lusinger, forward Matt Franklin and Mitchell, albeit inadvertently, took heart, perseverance and single-minded determination to new heights.

A blind draw pitted the Tornadoes against Chattanooga Christian, the state’s No. 1-ranked team, in the opener. In the match of the tournament, Alcoa stunned the Chargers, 1-1 (6-5), in a sudden-death, penalty-kick shootout. The Tornadoes would never have reached overtime and the subsequent shootout had Lusinger, a junior, not tied the match on a left-footed rainbow from just outside the box with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation.

Womac collected the lone save in the shootout by either goalkeeper. When he turned back a second - one later disallowed when officials ruled Womac had come off his line prior to the shot - the Warriors had to be rattled.

The seventh and final Chattanooga Christian kick - after those by Harrison Powell, Roberto Castro, Stone, Lusinger, Sam Thompson and Mitchell had proven successful for the Tornadoes - banged wildly off the crossbar, sending Alcoa on to Round 2.

Mitchell looked especially spent after the match. Diagnosed later in the night with a viral infection, he would be rushed back to Blount County for treatment. He would be unavailable for the semifinal match with Hume-Fogg the next day, maybe for the rest of the tournament.

Enter Franklin.

Of Alcoa’s five seniors, including midfielder Sam Thompson, defender Dusty McClanahan, Womac and Mitchell, Franklin had been the lone non-starter for much of the season. He felt frustrated, discouraged. Oh, but when he got his shot.

Alcoa knocked two first-half goals by the Blue Knights, with Franklin, subbing for Mitchell up front, delivering both of them in a 2-1 win.

When Mitchell made it back for the final game, no one was more elated than his father, Ben. Ben Mitchell worked for international shipping giant DHL for 15 years before being laid off in January. Prior to this season, he’d only seen Andrew play home matches, and then only for a half on his lunch break.

When Andrew got back in time Saturday to deliver the opening goal, “The layoff was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Debbie Mitchell, Andrew’s mom, said.

What a ride.

Can we go again?

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