WHEELERSBURG — Wheelersburg’s Annie Coriell spent several seconds buried at the very bottom of the Lady Pirates’ celebration pile.
However, those few precious seconds were worth every moment after the previous scoreless 110 minutes….and 10 penalty kicks.
That’s because the freshman Coriell, the final of 10 kickers during a nerve-wracking sectional semifinal shootout on Tuesday, connected with the match-winning goal — and propelled the Lady Pirates to an intense yet thrilling 4-3 penalty-kick victory over Athens in a Division II tilt inside Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg.
That’s correct — the fate of nine seniors’ girls soccer careers came down to one final single solitary kick off the foot of a freshman.
But Coriell kicked her penalty attempt right at the right of Athens goalkeeper Nikki Bean, as the shot sent the Wheelersburg charges into a wild frenzy — and the fourth-seeded Lady Pirates into Saturday’s sectional championship tilt at Fairfield Union.
The Lady Pirates, playing in Division II this season, raised their record to 14-2-1 — while the fifth-seeded Lady Bulldogs saw their season shockingly end at 5-9-3.
When they say that the postseason tournament is all about surviving and advancing, they are indeed correct, and the Lady Pirates did just that in a defensive-heavy double-overtime opening match.
The two clubs combined for just 22 total shots (Athens 12 and Wheelersburg 10) through regulation and two 15-minute overtime sessions, which didn’t produce a single point.
Hence, it all came down to a five-on-five alternating-shot penalty-kick shootout, which — after both squads didn’t score on their initial attempts — resulted in three makes by both teams entering each’s final shot.
That’s when Athens junior Sophia Atherton’s attempt sailed high over the crossbar — and well out of the reach of Wheelersburg senior goalkeeper Morgan Bivens.
That meant Coriell— claiming to be calm, cool and collected — came up for the final of the 10-shot round.
An outright miss, or a save by Bean, meant a second shootout was on deck — but that a goal punched the Lady Pirates’ ticket to a date for a sectional title.
Coriell drilled the orb directly to her left and by the diving Bean, as the freshman found herself swarmed under by the rush of her teammates to mob her.
Usually, such pressure isn’t reserved for a freshman in her or his first tournament match, but Coriell kept her composure — and never once flinched.
“I was more nervous standing up here in anticipation of going to kick. Once (Wheelersburg’s) Alaina (Keeney) put hers in (on Pirate PK before Coriell), I just said I am putting mine in,” said Coriell. “I was very excited to shoot that shot, but I think that the support that you have as a team comes down to that. I wouldn’t be as confident in myself without the practice that goes in everyday, people pumping each other up. I was happy for my team.”
And, after all, soccer is a team sport — and Coriell’s kick to win wouldn’t have been possible without three other Lady Pirates immediately ahead of her making their shots to keep the shootout tied.
Wheelersburg’s Jordan Jennings answered Athens’ Anna Wesler for the first makes, then Ellie Kallner kept it even after Athens’ Emma Dabelko banged hers in off the twine.
Finally, Claire Benyei made it three in a row for the Lady Bulldogs — only to be equaled by Wheelersburg’s Alaina Keeney, who beat Bean high and to the upper right.
Unfortunately for Athens, Atherton’s shot sailed high — followed by Coriell coming through for the Pirates.
But even before that, Bivens — who had a clean sheet in regulation and overtime — bagged the biggest save of her career on Athens’ first try.
Caroline Brandes was first up for the Lady Bulldogs, and attempted to beat Bivens at her lower right.
But Bivens blocked the shot, going to her knees and knocking it away with her hands.
It was the final of her nine saves, but it allowed Wheelersburg — at the minimum — to maintain kick-for-kick.
The standout senior netminder said it was her first career shootout, and she even emerged with gauze in her nose following the Lady Pirates’ postmatch pile-up.
It was only the second such eyewitnessed shootout for Wheelersburg coach Todd Jarvis, who has been “around soccer a long time”.
Bivens said simply it was the by-product of each of the Lady Pirates looking out for one another.
“It was all very nerve-wracking, and as it went into overtime, I knew it was going to be hard. We didn’t let them score, but then I was just so nervous in the shootout because I’ve never done one, but I knew my team would have my back. And that’s exactly what they did,” she said.
The entire Wheelersburg defense did in the opening 110 minutes, then the Pirates passed the proverbial baton on to Laney Eller, Jennings, Kallner, Keeney and ultimately — and finally — Coriell.
“We’ve had a long, hard season, but tonight I felt we came closer as a team,” said Bivens. “We were talking a lot more than we have all season. We had each other’s backs to get the ball up the field. When you have all that which comes together, you have more opportunities for goals.”
While fewer and more far between, both teams did have chances during regulation and into the overtimes, especially Athens in the second extra session — as the overwhelming majority of that 15-minute period was played in the Bulldogs’ offensive half and third.
With nine minutes and 45 seconds remaining, Mariah Heflin had a one-on-one with Bivens, but Bivens stepped up in the box and slid down for the stop — as the two collided feet-first and the ball got knocked away.
A few minutes later, the Bulldogs’ final of their seven corner kicks came close, but a header went over the net — though still tantalizing close to a golden goal.
“That second 15-minute overtime was very interesting. I understand everybody is gassed, but by then we were struggling in the middle and we were exhausted,” said Jarvis. “It becomes a situation of holding back the tide, but we did.”
In the initial overtime, it was the Bulldogs’ Bean having to display her defense — with Wheelersburg maintaining most of the offensive action.
She made a step-up and save at the 5:10 mark, then fair-caught a high-arcing yet spiraling kick inside of 10 seconds — that likely would have resulted in a goal had she not secured the catch.
Jarvis knew that the Bulldogs “defended really well, and we talked about opportunities would be few and to make the most of them”.
“There were few (scoring chances) both ways, because both teams defended well,” he said.
Most of the first half was played between the 20-yard lines, as arguably Bivens’ best save before her penalty-kick stop was halfway through the second half.
With 21:40 left in regulation, she went hard and fast to her knees directly in front of the net to preserve the shutout.
“Morgan has been in goal a long time and I am telling you, she gets her hands on a lot of shots and penalty kicks we work on,” said Jarvis. “We work on it and she judges right a lot. She made some great saves up until the penalty kicks, then she got her hands on that first one, and she was in the same direction on a few others that were just well-struck.”
And, “well-struck” best describes the shot Coriell connected on.
“Penalty kicks is something we work on, and even though that’s not easy to do and there’s a tremendous amount of pressure associated with that, I was confident with our one through five out there tonight,” said Jarvis. “We had our chance at five, and I was comfortable with Annie taking it. When she stepped up, she was confident. That’s a big role for a freshman. Congratulations to her.”
But, the coach quickly congratulated ALL of his Lady Pirates, despite Coriell’s kick — and subsequent postgame pileup — being remembered most.
“I’m proud of each and every one of our girls — front to back and the five who stepped up for the penalty kicks. Those Athens ladies played their hearts out and we knew they would, and they gave us everything we knew they would. We talked about not having anything left in the tank when it was over. There is no tomorrow. The only guarantee of ‘tomorrow’ is the win,” said Jarvis. “Annie will be remembered for knocking the winner in, but it takes an entire group to get us to that point in time.”
The point in time now is Saturday at 11 a.m., when Wheelersburg faces top-seeded Fairfield Union for the sectional championship.
“They (Falcons) set the bar, but guess what? We’re playing them, so that says something about who we are. We’re not intimidated about playing them, and our girls are going to prepare, go up there and play their butts off,” said Jarvis. “We understand what they have and we know what to expect with their good players and heavy possession, but we’re going to give them everything we have. At the end, you just see what the score looks like and the winner moves on.”
* * *
Athens 0 0 (3) — 3
Wheelersburg 0 0 (4) — 4
A — Anna Welser (penalty kick), SO (1-0 A)
W — Jordan Jennings (penalty kick), SO (1-1 tie)
A — Emma Dabelko (penalty kick), SO (2-1 A)
W — Ellie Kallner (penalty kick), SO (2-2 tie)
A — Claire Benyei (penalty kick), SO (3-2 A)
W — Alaina Keeney (penalty kick), SO (3-3 tie)
W — Annie Coriell (penalty kick), SO (4-3 W)
SHOTS — Athens 12, Wheelersburg 10
SAVES — Athens 6 (Nikki Bean 6), Wheelersburg 9 (Morgan Bivens 9)
CORNER KICKS — Athens 7, Wheelersburg 4
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved