After back-to-back saves by the goalkeepers, Science Hill freshman Riley Cox punched a shot into the right-hand corner of the net Tuesday night to end penalty kicks at 4-3 and send the Lady Hilltoppers to the Region 1-AAA championship game.
“That’s the second time we’ve pulled her in on penalty kicks,” said Hilltoppers’ head coach David Strickland. “Last time we had her go first, but this time we had her go last because we know she’s very good at just tucking the ball away. We trust her, very much so.”
Cox said she was just thinking about the seniors, and how good the team had played this season. And she said she thought about how her kick could determine the season.
“I just knew I needed to place it in the corner,” said Cox. “And I just chose one, and went for it.”
After making the shot, Cox raced back and joined her teammates in celebration.
“It was the most memorable moment ever,” said Cox.
The semifinal victory means Science Hill (12-8-1) will play Tennessee High in Thursday’s championship match, and will also play in Saturday’s sectional round with a state tournament berth on the table. It was a season-ending loss for Jefferson County (13-7-1).
It was a much different match from previous meetings as the Hilltoppers had racked up 12 total goals in two games. But this time, it was scoreless through regulation, two 10-minute overtimes, and two five-minute overtimes.
That set the stage for penalty kicks. Serena Orio went first for Science Hill and knotted the scored at 1-1. Then Jeff County missed, and Devin Fry put the Lady Toppers ahead with a connection.
Sara Leon then made her kick to produce a 3-2 edge after three kicks. But then Jeff County connected, and Science Hill’s shot was denied to put the score at 3-3.
The Lady Patriots could have taken the lead, but Science Hill goalkeeper Taylor Kelley delivered a brilliant stop to set the stage for Cox.
“Taylor had a great save,” said Strickland. “She got her right hand on it, and knocked it down and it hit the post and came back out. That was clutch. We told Taylor, ‘If you can just make one save, we’ll do the rest. And she did great. She came through. I’m so happy for her. She’s a senior, and this has been a fantastic year for Taylor.”
Strickland said he knows the rematch against Tennessee High will be tough. The Lady Vikings have beaten Science Hill twice, and the Lady Hilltoppers still haven’t scored a goal against them.
“It will be a tough match,” said Strickland. “They have two strong players we need to control, but we’ve got to be good in the final third and score goals.”