Phoenix Sports Writer
FORT GIBSON – Words were hard to come by for the Fort Gibson Lady Tigers.
The smiles said it all.
But a happy Sanya Januszweski tried to gather her thoughts after her and the Lady Tigers defeated Piedmont 2-0 in the Class 4A girls state semifinals at Leo Donahue Tiger Stadium on Tuesday night.
“I’m so proud of my team,” the junior striker said. “We’ve just worked so hard for this. I’m sorry. I’m speechless. This feels so unreal.”
The Lady Tigers, ranked No. 2 in the final Okrankings.com poll, improved to 12-1 for the season and will play defending state champion Verdigris (12-3) for the state championship at 6 p.m. Saturday at the University of Tulsa. It’s Fort Gibson’s first time to the finals in school history.
Januszweski and junior forward Brooke Benham scored the Lady Tigers’ goals, both in the first half in sending Piedmont home for the season at 14-3.
Fort Gibson coach Jamie Snyder was mobbed by her team in the middle of the field after the game. She was feeling bittersweet.
“I didn’t say a lot about it, but our starting sweeper (Shelby Nichols) broke her ankle Sunday in a tournament. She’s been our defensive captain all year long,” Snyder said. “I kept telling the girls why we were so good was because of our depth.
“I had several freshmen on the field tonight in big-time situations. I told Sarah (Nichols, a freshman striker) that she was playing this for her sister and she was huge for us.”
Januszweski scored the first goal with 13:17 left in the first half. Less than four minutes later, Benham took a throw-in from Raelee Waltman and scored the second goal on a header with 9:26 remaining.
“This is amazing, the best feeling in my life,” Benham said outside the locker room. “We got up 2-0 and I thought we had it in the bag. I knew we could shut them down.”
As a team, the Lady Tigers were clearly the aggressor with 10 shots on goal to four for Piedmont in the first half. Fort Gibson had 11 shots on goal for the game to Piedmont’s 10 with Kyndra Johnson in the net for the Lady Tigers.
Jordan Raymor and Gabby Escamilla joined Benham with two shots on goal each.
Piedmont came back with six shots on goal in the second half, but none of them found the net. Kylie Pyle had three in the game and two in the second half.
“Our second half wasn’t as great as the first half, but we played safely,” Benham said.
Verdigris beat Harrah 3-0 in the other semifinal on Tuesday.
Santa Fe South 2,
Fort Gibson 1
Unfortunately, the Tigers couldn’t match the girls’ success after being knocked out by the Saints in the semifinals to end the season at 11-2.
Austin Ford’s goal with 22:39 left in the game cut the Tigers’ deficit to 2-1, but coach Todd Friend’s squad couldn’t get close to tie the game.
“We tried our hardest,” Ford said. “It’s a lot harder to come from behind than just flat-out playing. I tried my hardest to put one in the back of the net, but sometimes it just doesn’t click.
“It wasn’t a bad year but it would’ve been better if we had made the finals.”
The No. 2 Tigers had eight shots on goal in the game, six of them in the second half. Ford had two shots on goal in the second half and received an yellow card with 12:01 left in the physical game. Johan Chavez also had two shots on goal.
The No. 7 Saints (13-3), a state finalist last season, had 10 shots on goal for the game including six in the first half.
Edgar Moreno’s penalty kick with 6:04 left in the first half and Paul Incorvaia’s goal with 28:39 left in the game accounted for the Saints’ scoring.
Friend said he thought there was a foul on Santa Fe South before the penalty kick, but it wasn’t called.
“To get a free goal like that in a big game like that, it’s disappointing,” he said. “Sometimes that happens. But the boys played hard. I can’t take anything away from their heart. They were all in and that’s what you ask for. We just came up a little bit short.”