WHEELERSBURG — The Wheelersburg Lady Pirates, in their seventh season as a girls soccer program, won their 100th match on Tuesday night in the best way they knew how.
While nerve-wracking and nail-biting for fans, the Lady Pirates won with dramatics, an equalizing ability, and —of course —penalty kicks.
But likely, if you perhaps poll the Lady Pirates, they wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
In establishing its milestone, Wheelersburg battled back from a pair of one-goal deficits —and converted its final two tries while goalkeeper Brynley Preston pitched a shootout shutout —ultimately outlasting the Fairfield Lady Lions in a Division III district semifinal inside an ancy, yet euphoric Ed Miller Stadium.
With the win, the 2020 Lady Pirates — the second-seeded squad in the Southeast District tournament — raised their record to 14-3-1, part of officially now 100-18-10 all-time.
More importantly, though, in the here and now for this week —Wheelersburg will play for its fourth all-time district championship on Saturday, following three consecutive in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Those were all Division III titles, as the Pirates played as a Division II program last year.
But by packaging the home district semifinal due to the coronavirus situation with how they captured Tuesday’s tilt, win 100 will ALWAYS be remembered.
“What a way to get it,” said a proud Wheelersburg coach Todd Jarvis. “It was a battle here no doubt about it. We were two like-minded teams and we came at each other in similar fashion. It was just an amazing show and something special to be a part of. I’ve been through it a few times now, but to end up in PKs after all that time, it’s really something. These two teams played their hearts out, and we happen to beat them in PKs. It’s a great opportunity for us to move forward.”
The two teams scored one goal apiece in each half, then played through not one but two scoreless overtime periods.
At that point, for many —even most —of these particular Lady Pirates, it was de ja vu all over again.
That’s because, in a Division II sectional semifinal last season, Wheelersburg won over visiting Athens in a shootout—after a scoreless tie through regulation and both sudden-death overtimes.
In fact, sophomore starter Annie Coriell kicked in the game-winning PK on the Pirates’ fifth and final attempt, as Tuesday’s shooters —seniors Laney Eller and Ellie Kallner, sophomore Jocelyn Tilley and junior Kylan Darnell —were either instrumental in that victory or were on the sidelines.
While the Lady Lions are an equally young unit according to their roster, the Lady Pirates played the experience card in the pressure-packed shootout situation.
After all, a match’s outcome —and subsequently squads’ seasons and individual careers —hang in the balance with each of those five shot attempts.
“It (penalty-kicks situation) is not easy. If anybody thinks it’s easy to set that ball on the stripe and knock it in the net, then they have another thing coming. It’s a very hard thing to do,” said Jarvis. “All our kids can do is work on it which we do, and we prepare for this moment.”
Eller and Tilley took the Lady Pirates’ opening two shots, but Fairfield sophomore keeper Alayna McIntosh made the saves on both — just as Preston saved Fairfield’s first shots by Hailey Tolle and Kennedy Zink.
Wheelersburg went first on each round within the shootout, as Kallner took the third attempt —and beat McIntosh to her left for the 1-0 lead.
Cadence Saunders stepped up then for the Lady Lions, but her shot sailed wide right — allowing Wheelersburg the chance to win with another make followed by another Lady Lion miss.
That’s exactly what happened.
Darnell drilled her kick into the upper-left 90, and Preston — going to her knees and toward her left — stopped Ella Newkirk’s kick.
That save set off a wild Lady Pirate pile and celebration, with Preston rushing towards teammates as most of them fell in jubilation to the turf.
Morgan Bivens was Wheelersburg’s senior standout goalkeeper last season, but the junior Preston has performed admirably —even remarkably —in replacing her.
Often under duress as the Lions pressured her and the Pirates’ back line late in both halves and overtimes, she recorded 13 saves —none bigger than the three in the shootout.
“Brynley Preston, as a keeper, I mean what do you say? Instinctively, she just goes the right direction. It was spectacular,” said Jarvis. “When that happens, it shows you hard it is to knock it in, but it’s amazingly hard to save it. Tip of the hat to her. Front to back, we knew it would be a battle. We hung in there, continued to hang on and try to survive, and Brynley made some great saves, especially at the end. Fairfield is a talented group that comes at you hard, and we just continued to defend to the best of our ability.”
Speaking of defending, to help bolster that back line, Jarvis moved Kallner to the center starting in the second half — as her defense was even more necessary once the Lady Pirates tied the match for a second time.
Saunders scored for Fairfield for a 2-1 advantage with 25:19 remaining, but Grace Charles quickly collected the equalizer a mere two minutes and 16 seconds later —when McIntosh misplayed Charles’ shot.
In part because of Kallner, in part because of Preston, and in part because of Wheelersburg’s will to defend, the Lions — combined with their four penalty kicks — didn’t score for the final 55 minutes and 19 seconds.
All of that was before the captain Kallner kicked in her PK.
“Ellie Kallner is the kid you know you can trust for anything. You can just ask her and tell her what happens and she just does it,” said Jarvis. “We’re in good hands with her. There’s not many players like that to play for you. We have 25 good ones, but there are only a few that are capable of everything. She is one of those kids that is capable of everything.”
That includes scoring, which is what Eller did for the 1-1 tie — with 16:50 to play in the opening half.
Eller is easily the Lady Pirates’ leading scorer, but goals — and even chances — get much more difficult to come by the deeper the tournament goes.
Wheelersburg had eight shots on goal, and six corner kicks, against the Lady Lions.
Coriell assisted on Eller’s tally, which occurred exactly eight minutes following Fairfield’s first goal —a Newkirk marker which Zink assisted.
“Laney Eller works so hard up top. I just keep telling her that the further we go in this tournament, you face better defenders and the harder goals get. It’s a very selfish game in terms of goals, so every one of them is important,” said Jarvis. “A couple good goals tonight got us even and we go to PKs.”
Jarvis praised his entire roster, saying his charges did exactly what they needed to do to win a tournament match.
“You survive and advance. It’s just what you do. They are a young and well-coached group over there. They were a good, talented No. 7 seed. And we knew what we were up against. We expected a dogfight from the beginning. There was nothing that they did that surprised us. I’m proud of the way each and everyone played,” said the coach. “We asked the Lady Pirates to rise to the occasion, and they rose to the occasion. All you can ask for is a team to respond. We all did our jobs tonight and we walk out of here with a good victory.”
And, not just any triumph.
The program’s 100th to be precise —and to keep its season alive.
While Fairfield finishes at 11-6, Wheelersburg will face third-seeded Eastern Brown for the district championship on Saturday.
The Warriors rolled sixth-seeded Alexander 7-1 in another district semifinal on Tuesday, as once again Waverly’s Raidiger Field — the Lady Pirates’ proverbial home away from home — will be the district championship site.
All three previous Lady Pirate district titles took place there, as this year’s club has already played at Waverly —a 3-3 tie against the outright Southern Ohio Conference champions.
Match time is set for 11 a.m.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished and what we’re going to continue to do,” said Jarvis. “We’re ready to move on to the district championship and look forward to our trip back to Waverly on Saturday. Our goal at the beginning of the year is to still be playing at this point. And we are. For us, it’s just next, and Saturday we’ll give our next our best.”
* * *
Fairfield 1 1 0 0 — 2
Wheelersburg 1 1 0 0 —2
F — Ella Newkirk (Kennedy Zink assist), 24:47, 1st (1-0 F)
W — Laney Eller (Annie Coriell assist), 16:50, 1st (1-1 tie)
F — Cadence Saunders (unassisted), 25:19, 2nd (2-1 F)
W — Grace Charles (unassisted), 23:03, 2nd (2-2 tie)
W — Ellie Kallner, penalty kick
W — Kylan Darnell, penalty kick
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved