WAVERLY — How fitting, on Halloween of all days, that it was indeed treats —and definitely not tricks —which went Wheelersburg’s way on Saturday.
The biggest treat of all though, better than any bucket of candy, was the Pirates’ posing for team photos — with their GOLD medals and OHSAA Southeast District championship trophy — following their Division III girls soccer district championship match.
And, what a treat it was to watch Wheelersburg rally for the victory.
In almost unthinkable — and unbelievable — fashion, the second-seeded Lady Pirates somehow and someway erased a 3-1 deficit with 31 minutes and 12 seconds remaining, and amazingly scored the final three goals including the one in overtime to edge Eastern Brown 4-3 inside sun-soaked Raidiger Field in Waverly.
You read correct.
The Lady Pirates put up three stunning goals over the final 28 minutes and 43 seconds of regulation and three minutes and 53 seconds of overtime — storming back from a 3-1 deficit that appeared almost impossible to overcome with only 31:12 to play.
But, remember, this was Halloween, the Lady Pirates donned Orange and Black, and indeed some atypical events played out as Wheelersburg staged its comeback.
Three of the Lady Pirates’ goals, in fact, came oh close to not being goals —but the breaks went Wheelersburg’s way at its home away from home.
“We’ve always felt home here at Waverly,” said Wheelersburg coach Todd Jarvis. “It’s been kind to us and we continue to play well here.”
The championship triumph was Wheelersburg’s 101st win in program history, coming immediately after its 100th win in dramatic fashion of its own — a penalty-kicks shootout semifinal win over visiting Fairfield on Tuesday.
It was also the Lady Pirates’ fourth district title, all in the past five years and all at the Division III level —and all four at Waverly’s Raidiger Field.
Wheelersburg — in its seventh season as a program — won previous district crowns in 2016, 2017 and 2018 before being bumped to Division II last year.
Jarvis simply said it was great to be back in Division III, great to be back playing at Waverly, and great to be back advancing to soccer’s “Sweet 16” for Ohio’s small-school girls.
The Lady Pirates sport just two seniors, Laney Eller and Ellie Kallner, which are now district champions for the third and final times and in their decorated careers.
“A district title in the Southeast District in high school soccer is an enormous win. People don’t understand that. Not a lot of teams get to move beyond the Southeast District tournament. I’ve known that for a long time, having been around the game a long time. A district championship is enormous,” said Jarvis. “And Laney and Ellie are just two great young ladies and exemplary student-athletes in multiple sports. They’ve been good to our soccer program, and you need that leadership to rise to the top.”
Eller and Kallner refused to let the younger Lady Pirates play dead down 3-1, and finally, some breaks began going the Lady Pirates’ way.
“We were down 3-1, but we just stayed true to what we try to do. We’re not overly capable of doing uncanny things, so we just continued to come at them, just changed our approach and our formation a little bit, and these girls just hang on. Eastern Brown moves the ball well, but we sat down and defended and got into a few passing lanes and knocked a few balls away in the nick of time. And (Wheelersburg goalkeeper) Brynley (Preston) came up with a few good saves. When you equate that over 80-plus minutes, ultimately we played well. We weren’t perfect and we don’t play perfect soccer, but we play well enough to battle back into it. The fight of the girls, I’m just so proud of them,” said the coach. “When you’re in the tournament, you have to have a break or two. And we caught some breaks and that’s okay.”
No breaks bigger, of course, than the game-winning goal in sudden death overtime.
Inching upon the 11-minute mark in the opening overtime period, the ball went out of bounds near the Lady Warriors’ goal.
While the third-seeded Warriors argued vehemently for a goal kick and Eastern Brown possession, the center official over-ruled his sideline partners —and ruled the ball went off the Warriors, resulting in a Pirates’ corner kick.
What happened next was turn-about turning out to be fair play, as the Warriors’ opening goal by Emma Prine only three minutes and four seconds into the match was a direct result of a Mary Litzinger corner kick.
Annie Coriell took the corner —and freshman Maddison Kotcamp came up from her center back position to press and put more Lady Pirates in the goalbox.
As it turned out, Kotcamp was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.
Kotcamp caught a foot on it, one-timed the shot, and — although it appeared to bounce off a Warrior defender — knocked it into the net’s right side past Eastern goalkeeper Alyssa Perkins.
“Maddie was right place, right time. We felt the opportunities were few, so we were going to press when we had the chance. That’s just what we do, and we did,” said Jarvis. “We just ask them to execute and they continue to do it.”
Needless to say, but it was young Kotcamp’s career-defining goal, Eller’s most memorable career corner kick, and the Lady Pirates’ season-saving —and savoring —point.
“It was kind of interesting that we finished up on a corner kick, because we struggle sometimes defending them, but we got one this time,” said Jarvis. “So good for us.”
And while the game-winner originated from a corner, the game-tying goal, perhaps even more improbable, began with another set piece —a direct kick.
Jocelyn Tilley took the direct with just over four minutes remaining, and her initial attempt ricocheted right back to her off a Warrior defender.
Tilley then launched a second shot, a high-arching sky-ball, that rainbowed its way through just under the crossbar —and just over the outstretched reach of Perkins.
The ball sailed into the net, the score suddenly stood tied 3-3, and out of the clear blue Saturday sunny sky, the soccer gods were with Wheelersburg as it found newfound energy.
While Wheelersburg was unable to have sustained success getting the ball to Eller up top, it scored in other ways — three off original set pieces.
Tilley’s tally was the second off a Lady Pirate direct kick, as Kallner kicked one with 27 minutes remaining in the opening half —and Perkins couldn’t get a grasp on it.
That tied it at 1-1, as —set pieces or not — Jarvis discussed what happens when the ball is in-play live.
“Any ball in play is a dangerous ball. When you put a ball in play, you force the opponent to have to make defensive plays. People don’t understand the pressure of making plays,” he said. “Eastern Brown is a great group and is well-coached, and they don’t make many mistakes. But we just put pressure on them with those sets and were able to take advantage of them. Winning is not an easy thing to do. You do need some breaks to go your way, and just be able to withstand the pressure of the situation.”
The Pirates never led until the final goal, and took 10 first-half minutes to equalize Prine’s first of two goals with Kallner’s direct kick.
Rylee Leonard landed Eastern’s second score with nine-and-a-half minutes left in the first half, off a failed Lady Pirate defensive clear — and Prine putted added pressure on with her second goal with 31:12 remaining.
Up until that point, most of the match had been played in Eastern’s offensive half and even third —but the Pirates pushed back just two-and-a-half minutes later.
That’s when Eller crossed a ball to Kylan Darnell, who beat Perkins for the 3-2 deficit —providing the Pirates with an early second-half shot in the arm.
Finally, Tilley tied it at 3-3 and fully revived the Lady Pirates 25 minutes later, setting up Kotcamp’s connection almost four minutes into overtime.
While the shell-shocking loss ended Eastern Brown’s season at 13-6, the now 15-3-1 Lady Pirates —after an overly-entertaining, exciting, nail-biting and definitely dramatic Division III district tournament —play another day.
In fact, that day is Tuesday night —and at home inside the friendly confines of Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg.
With the OHSAA’s pre-determined brackets, Wheelersburg drew a home match for the regional semifinals —meaning top-seeded Southeast District club and 15-4-0 Lynchburg-Clay must make the trip eastward and southward.
The Mustangs, in the second thrilling and heart-stopping encounter at Waverly on Saturday, nudged North Adams — the fourth-seeded squad — 2-1 in double overtime.
First kick is set for 7 p.m., as Lynchburg-Clay and Wheelersburg do have plenty of recent history.
“We look forward to the regional semifinals again,” said Jarvis. “We’ll see what we can do. We’re not done. We’ve got at least one more.”
The Mustangs defeated the Pirates in the same semifinal round in 2016 and 2017, before Wheelersburg exacted a measure of revenge two years ago with a 2-1 district championship win.
Although, that one didn’t occur on Halloween — and definitely didn’t provide the Lady Pirates with the same treats that say Saturday’s championship did.
“It’s a big deal to win a Southeast District championship,” said Jarvis. “The effort these girls give is unbelievable.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved