Typically, a group as good as the South Aiken High School girls’ soccer team will get to open the playoffs against an also-ran in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs. Tying for first place in the region and streaking to the postseason with one win after another – like the Thoroughbreds have – usually results in facing a weak first-round foe.

That wasn’t the case Monday when South Aiken was forced to play all out until the final whistle in a 5-2 win over Irmo. That sets up a second-round match on the road against Ashley Ridge which capitalized on its first-round mismatch with an 11-0 win over South Florence.

The Yellow Jackets (10-10) are a traditional power, but the loss completed a down year by their high standards. But with 2012 all-state player Savannah McCaskill leading the way, as well as a gritty performance by goalie Kamryn Kelly, Irmo was much tougher than the typical first-round opponent. Although the T-Breds (18-2-1) controlled the action and dominated possession of the ball for much of the game, the Yellow Jackets made the home team earn the win at the Stomping Grounds.

“We didn’t play our best, but we still had five goals,” South Aiken head coach David Mihoulides said of his squad that jumped out to an early lead and held on in spite of Irmo’s attempts at a rally. “This is the time of year when the girls have got to be hitting on all cylinders. They’ve got to be there mentally.”

The T-Breds stormed out of the gate, claiming a one-goal lead approximately three minutes into the game. They quickly forced the action deep in the Yellow Jackets’ end of the field, and their pressure was rewarded with a corner kick. Sabrina Giancroche, the team’s leader in assists, curled a perfectly placed kick in front of the Irmo net. After it took one high bounce, the ball settled in front of Macey Bosley long enough for the senior leader to knock it into the net from out of a pack of players.

Following that early strike, the action settled into a more balanced pace, with both teams taking runs at the opposing net, with few good shots on goal. South Aiken generated higher-quality looks, but Kelly made some key saves and deflections. She was strong until about midway through the opening half, when Giancroche and Bosley connected again.

After Irmo was whistled for a foul near midfield, Giancroche used her powerful and accurate foot to stripe the ball down the middle of the field, where Bosley hit it with her head finding an exposed portion of the goal for a 2-0 lead. The goal was Bosley’s 22nd of the season and came on Giancroche’s 25th assist.

The T-Breds’ advantage was never less than two goals the rest of the way, but star forward Jessica Schifer did her best to expand it.

South Aiken’s top scorer, Schifer is just a sophomore. But she’s already one of the elite players in the state and should see her name listed on several end-of-season honor rolls. She showed why throughout the game against Irmo, constantly drawing attention from multiple defenders and frequently beating them. She has tremendous ball-possession skills and had deft touch as well as power in both her right and left foot.

Schifer showed how powerful she is with her off foot less than three minutes after Bosley’s second score. Schifer corralled a long pass from her twin sister Mikaela, quickly set herself while continuing momentum toward the Irmo net before launching a 30-plus yard rocket that gave Kelly no chance of stopping it.

“All year she’s been double, triple, even quadruple teamed; but she’s able to keep the ball on her foot and turn people,” Mihoulides said of Schifer who can streak past defenders just as well as navigating between two or three of them without losing control of the ball and creating scoring opportunities. “She does a fantastic job and does it as a sophomore. It’s amazing.”

Schifer continued to mount one scoring rush after another as the first half gave way to the second, but nothing could find the back of the net. At times, her shots were too high or too wide of the intended target. On several occasions, Kelly made a critical save or tip of the ball to deny Schifer and her teammates. Kelly had to be helped off the field with a leg injury just before halftime, but returned no worse for the wear in the game’s final 40 minutes and finished with 10 saves against 16 South Aiken shots on goal – one Schifer blast ricocheted off the cross bar.

“We get tons of shots, but it seems like we face a lot of quality keepers,” Mihoulides said. “(Kelly) kept them in the game.”

Kelly’s efforts were finally rewarded midway through the second half. McCaskill got loose on the right side of the field and had a brief look at the T-Breds’ goal from at least 20 yards away. She made the most of her chance and launched a beautiful strike that crossed to the upper left corner of the goal that kept the Yellow Jackets in the game. She had all three of her team’s shots on goal.

McCaskill went top shelf again for another goal 10 minutes later, but it was sandwiched between goals from Schifer and Demi Moore that ensured a South Aiken victory. Both of the scores were a credit to Schifer’s presence.

On her second score of the game and 39th of the season, she made a steal on Irmo’s side of the field, raced past three defenders to create a one-on-one with Kelly, who had no chance. Moore’s goal came on a corner kick that was targeted toward the front of the net, where Schifer and most of the Yellow Jackets were waiting. The ball was deflected out to the left where Moore made a nice move to beat the only defender in her proximity before putting the ball into the back of the net for the final score.

“It was the outcome we were looking for,” Mihoulides said of his team’s 13th consecutive victory, a streak that will be tested at Ashley Ridge on Wednesday. “I expect the girls to win there and play either Dutch Fork or Wando next. We’ll likely be on the road the rest of the playoffs.”

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.