CLAREMORE — And the third time WAS a charm.
After 100 minutes of a grueling defensive battle interrupted by a 30-minute lightning delay, it all came to down to the dreaded shootout.
Addie Shaw’s goal was the clincher as the Fort Gibson Lady Tigers captured their first-ever girls’ soccer championship after two unsuccessful tries with a thrilling 2-1 win over Metro Christian in the Class 4A soccer playoffs at Soldier Field on the Rogers State University campus.
The win avenged an earlier loss to the Lady Patriots (17-1) and spoiled their unbeaten record. It also gives the Lady Tigers (15-3) a gold ball for the trophy case after losing in the finals to Verdigris in 2013 and Glenpool in 2015.
“First of all, I want to say we give glory to God because His blessing on this team has been amazing,” said an ecstatic head coach Billy Whitehead. “I give all the credit to this group of girls. From day one through today they fought, hustled and gave it all they had. They deserve to win because of the effort they put forth from day one. I also want to give credit to my coaching staff. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
The first half was reminiscent of what has happened most of the season. The Lady Tigers controlled play, had more attacks than the Lady Patriots, but had nothing to show for it.
“With the weather delay and then halftime we were a little worried because we were playing a team that had given up just one goal all season long,” Whitehead said. “But I feel like we responded well and maybe wore them down a little in the second half.”
Metro got on the board first in the second half. Sydney Gaddis found Karsyn Combs on a short pass right in front of the goal and she put it in with 15:40 to play. But less than 30 seconds later another Sydney — sophomore Sydney Taylor of Fort Gibson — got loose dribbling right across the top of the box and rifled in a shot from 20 yards out to tie it at 1-1.
That’s the way things remained through the rest of the half and two 10-minute overtime periods, and then it was time for the shootout of penalty kicks. Kenzie Snell, Lauren Undaunted, Albany Adair, Taylor and Shaw all drew the assignments.
“We practice penalty kicks everyday and keep stats of who does well and that played in to our decision on who to use,” said Whitehead. “I pulled Addie off the sidelines because she was fresh and always does pretty well with PKs. I asked them all if they were confident they could put it in, and all five said yes and that was good for me.”
Snell’s shot went wide to the left for Fort Gibson, shooting first. But after that Undaunted, Adair, and Taylor all netted their attempts. On the defensive side, Tiger goal keeper Jordan Hayes saved or blocked two of the first three attempts by Metro, setting the stage for Shaw’s clincher.
“I was a little stressed but I was excited to be able to do that and win for our team. I had watched their goalie (Tatum Sanders) on the earlier shots and she went right most of the time, so I went in with the idea of going left,” said the sophomore Lady Tiger.
Hayes of course did her part.
“Before we started, I was really stressed because (Sanders) is a really good goalie,” said Hayes. “I try to read what the shooter is going to do and react. Sometimes they look the other way to try and fool you.
“It’s exciting to win since we didn’t have a season last year, and it was great to come out on top especially since we lost to them earlier.’
The championship was the culmination of a revitalization of the program that did so well in the mid-2010s and for seven seniors on the game roster including midfielder Keelia Hazelwood who has been playing injured a good part of the season.
“I was in shock when it was over,” she said. “I just broke down. We worked so hard for this and felt we deserved it. I was in some pain after that first overtime but I just played through it. As a senior it means everything to me. We made Fort Gibson history and it’s amazing.”
In addition to capturing the title on the field, the Lady Tigers were also named the academic soccer champs for Class 4A.