With a stellar defensive effort behind it, the offensive attack of the Fort Payne girls soccer team thrived in the first round of the AHSAA Class 6A state playoffs.

Caroline Pendergrass recorded 17 saves in goal, highlighting a defensive showing that helped the Wildcats shut out the Athens Golden Eagles 3-0 in Athens on Thursday night.

“Our defense played one of the best games they’ve played,” Wildcats coach Eddy Bolton said. “We became a lot more attack-focused, which is something we’ve been struggling with.”

Avery Chadwick assisted Kiley Shankles with the Wildcats’ first goal before Alexa Hidrogo dished to Katie Hernandez to put them ahead 2-0. Chloe Goggans assisted Angelica Robles with Fort Payne’s final score.

Bolton touted the performance of Pendergrass as the Wildcats’ goalkeeper after the match.

“Without her, that’s not a scoreless result. That’s one of the best games she’s played all year long,” the coach said.

The win propelled Fort Payne to a 7-9-1 record. Bolton said he makes it an objective to schedule upper-class competition.

“We really try to push these girls,” Bolton said. “Instead of trying to have an undefeated season by playing lower teams, we really try to play tougher teams and that’s forced us to work hard at attempting to score goals.

“As the season wound up, we finally started finding our rhythm a little bit more and our attack really got a lot better.”

The Wildcats advanced to the second round, where they’ll play host to Cullman. The match is tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Bolton said.

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