Joselyn Ruiz booted a shot into the net from the edge of the penalty area with 6 minutes left, but the Fort Payne girls couldn’t erase a three-score deficit in a 3-1 loss to Cullman in the second round of the AHSAA Class 6A state playoffs at Fort Payne High School’s Wildcat Stadium on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats finished with a 7-10-1 overall record. It was the first time Fort Payne’s girls had appeared in the second round of the postseason since 2016.

“We’d loved to have gone farther, but we also know that we lost nine seniors last year who didn’t get to finish their season,” Wildcats coach Eddy Bolton said. “I think making it past the first round in our little corner of the state is an achievement in itself. We have a hard road to state.”

After falling into a 3-0 hole in the waning minutes, Ruiz gathered the ball and blasted it into the left corner of the net to prevent a shutout.

Ruiz had a shot from 7 yards away be saved into the arms of Cullman’s goalkeeper with 10 minutes left in regulation.

“We weren’t as technical as we needed to be, we didn’t execute as well as we needed to, the majority of our shots weren’t on frame,” Bolton said.

Cullman scored in the 13th minute and the Wildcats drew a penalty with 1:41 left in the opening half. Ruiz attempted the penalty shot but Cullman’s goalie deflected the low strike to the left and corralled the loose ball. 

The Wildcats gathered at intermission facing a 1-0 deficit.

“We felt fairly confident that we could come back and get in the game,” Bolton said. “The game was nowhere near being out of reach at that point.”

Cullman scored from 2 yards out in the first 2 minutes of the second half and had a shot bounce off the inside of the right goal post for a 3-0 advantage with 13:18 remaining in the match.

“A game against a team like Cullman will highlight our weaknesses, and it did.” Bolton said. “A team that’s playing at the level they are almost amplifies the things that we do wrong. Against another opponent that may not be the case, but Cullman is a strong team. They came ready to play. Good luck as they go on into the third round.”

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