KINGSPORT — Savannah Wexler delivered her second winning goal in as many games, lifting University High to a District 1-A/AA championship with a 2-1 victory at Sullivan South on Thursday.
After helping the Junior Lady Bucs (8-4) atone for a loss to Elizabethton with a 1-0 semifinal victory on the road Tuesday, Wexler and company avenged regular-season losses to the Lady Rebels (9-8-1) by overcoming a second-half deficit.
University High will host Chuckey-Doak in a regional opener on Tuesday. South will visit Greeneville.
“I’ve never been so happy,” Wexler said. “I’m so proud of my team. We had a rough couple of weeks with losing to them twice, losing to Elizabethton. I’m high on heaven right now. I’m glad God gave me the ability to play.”
Wexler’s goal came in the 48th minute, some 2½ minutes after eighth-grade teammate Sarah Robinson had tied the score. At the beginning of the season it wasn’t certain Robinson would be able to play due to a heart condition.
“Sarah Robinson’s phenomenal,” University High assistant coach Caitlyn Epps said.
Robinson and Wexler each scored from around the same spot — some 25 yards out in the center of the field. Robinson impressively hooked a left-footer inside the right post, and Wexler used her right foot to send one in the net’s left corner.
“They’re great players,” Epps said. “Both Savannah and Sarah can kick it with their left and their right (foot).”
The winning score came on one of many attacks that freshman Maya Houston’s dribbling advances helped generate.
“She assisted me against Elizabethton for the game-winning goal and now against (Sullivan South) for the game-winning goal,” Wexler said. “Just playing with her is great.”
South’s goal came on a kick after a penalty that left the University High coaches animated, to say the least. The Lady Rebels’ Brianna Barrett sent a high diagonal kick arching over ailing keeper Taylor Treadway from 20-25 yards in the 33rd minute. The Lady Rebels led 1-0 at intermission despite UH having possessed the ball at least 85 percent of the half.
“I told the girls at halftime, ‘They kicked our butts in the first half. We shouldn’t have been leading,’” Sullivan South coach Keith Parker said. “And in the second half we fell asleep, started ball-watching … and let them have two wide-open shots from outside. You cannot let a team do that, especially with the good players they have in the middle. I mean, they’ll kill you every time.”
Treadway delivered when it mattered most — on another free kick from Barrett with approximately 16 minutes remaining. Barrett sent another high, arching shot that was descending just under the crossbar, but Treadway jumped and knocked it above the bar with an impressive two-handed save.
“Taylor Treadway is hurt,” Epps said. “Her back is killing her. And she showed tremendous heart.
“You know, I talked to her before the game and asked if she wanted to play, because she’s been in pain for two or three days now. And she said, ‘Oh, I’m definitely playing. I’m not sitting down, I’m playing.’ And I know that hurt to jump, because I’m warming her up and each time she’d catch it she goes, ‘Ah.’ So it was pretty gutsy.”
Wexler got a good look at Treadway’s clutch save.
“I ran and hugged her afterward,” Wexler said. “She’s one of my best friends and to have her on the team with me … she’s amazing.”
Treadway had to deny South’s Marissa Byerley on a good opportunity with less than two minutes to go.
“We had a couple of point-on shots we couldn’t score at the end,” Parker said.
UH outshot South, 19-12 (unofficially), but Treadway snuffed several high-percentage opportunities.
“She was wobbling before the game,” Wexler said. “But she played amazing tonight. She played amazing against Elizabethton. She’s our superstar.”
Treadway’s toughness set the tone, as did the physical play of teammate Belle Bright, who didn’t let a point-blank blast to what appeared to be the ribs drain any of her aggression.
“Last year we barely won any games,” Wexler said, “and now to be in the (district) championship and have won it, it’s amazing.”