South River Girls Mount Epic Comeback, Knock Out Arundel In Overtime, 3-2
Story and photos by Colin A.J. Murphy
A pair of second-half goals by Kacie Longo and Madison Koenigs overtime penalty kick powered the South River girls soccer team all the way back from a two-goal deficit to a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Arundel Wildcats in Tuesdays 4A East region final at Arundel High School. The victory advances the region-champion Seahawks (16-2) to next weeks state semifinals and brings a heartbreaking end to an otherwise outstanding season for Arundel (16-2).
In an 0-2 hole in the second half, a mountainous hurdle to overcome in soccer, the Seahawks simply had no quit in them, a fact that made South River Head Coach John Sis tremendously proud of his squad.
We just said at halftime, We need to play with our heart, said Sis. We just said, One goal. Dont worry about three goals. Worry about one goal. One goal gets us in and gets us momentum, well get another, well go into overtime and well win in overtime The fact that we did not give up showed me that we played with heart in the second half, and thats all you can ask for.
A matchup of by far the two best teams in the county this season, the final proved to be a wildly entertaining battle, with both teams delivering magnificent football before a lively crowd of hundreds at Arundels Carroll Field. The Wildcats took to their home turf looking to avenge a loss to the Seahawks eleven days ago in the Anne Arundel County championship game, a decision they dropped by a score of 3-0.
In that contest, the speed of South Rivers forwards was the decisive factor in the Seahawks win. This time around, Arundel Head Coach Laura Coe moved the Wildcats speedier players to the back line in hopes of neutralizing South Rivers most dangerous asset.
We wanted our three fastest girls in the back, and [junior captain] Becky Frost has got the speed and the physicality, and we just wanted to let Kacie Longo know that we have someone there, said Coe.
Throughout the first half, the plan worked. The speed of Frost, normally a forward, made goings difficult for the usually free-racing Longo, and the superb defense of sophomore sweeper Jenna Surdick and backs Mo Meek and Rebekah Schrier allowed the Wildcats to transition swiftly to their midfielders and forwards. Through ten minutes, Arundel was quicker to every loose ball and more assertive at all points on the field.
Arundels Clarissa Kirsch-Downs wasted little time taking advantage of her sides intensity. In the eleventh minute, a short clearance by South River goalkeeper Emily Proctorwho eventually figured prominently in the Seahawks victorywas sent back into the box, where Kirsch-Downs raced onto it before taking one touch to get around Proctor and rolling the ball into the empty net for a 1-0 Wildcat lead.
South River struggled to create chances against Arundels targeted game plan throughout much of the first half, and Arundel continued to press, outshooting the Seahawks 7-3 in the frame. Just two minutes before halftime, Kirsch-Downs sent a hard cross into the box, past a diving Proctor and onto the foot of Allison Shaner, who knocked it home for a 2-0 Arundel lead.
When Arundel goalie Tiffany Dayton-Hegedus closed the half with a skillful punch save on a South River corner kick to keep her side up two goals at the break, it looked as though the nights magic probably belonged to the Wildcats, and the Seahawks would be left shivering their way to a confounding loss in the frigid November air.
At least, thats what it looked like to everyone except the Seahawks. South River emerged from halftime with a renewed intensity and a focus on connecting passes and jolting energy into the offense. Relentless work rate by South Rivers midfielders and forwards created multiple looks on goal for the Seahawks, though initially they couldnt quite put the finishing touch on any chances.
It was perhaps their defense that swung the momentum. Three times in the half a high push by South River led to an Arundel counter attack, each time with Kirsch-Downs finding herself in a one-on-one with Proctor. All three times, Proctor stonewalled the prolific Arundel forward, leaving Wildcat supporters nonplussed in the stands.
After the second of Proctors three dazzling saves, Longo worked herself free for a shot, but her nifty chip clanged the crossbar.
Minutes later, she took another shot with her left foot from nearly the same spot, this time making good on the attempt. Her sensational blast from 23 yards curled over the outstretched arms of Dayton-Hegedus and into the top right corner of the goal, and South River was on the board, trailing 2-1, with 27 minutes remaining in the game.
Right when they scored the first goal we knew wed have to step it up, said Longo. Emily Proctor had so many great saves, and thats what really kept us in it. We kept our heads up and we didnt get down, and we didnt give up.
Chances were several for South River in the period, and the Seahawks nearly tied the contest in the 73rd minute when Zoe Cyphers free kick from 22 yards looked bound for the top shelf. But Dayton-Hegedus flew to the rescue, getting enough of her outstretched fingers on the attempt to tip it just over the net.
The ensuing corner kick came straight to the Seahawks Kat Wray, but her header sailed high, and for a moment it seemed South River may have missed its best opportunity to equalize.
But with under two minutes to play, glory came for the Seahawks. Senior Beka Petty corralled a loose ball, motored down the right sideline and did extremely well to get a cross off in the face of smothering defense. Her pass arrived in the box with pace, and Longo leapt through the defense to smash it into the goal with a powerful, Wambach-esque header, evening the score at 2-2 and bringing South River all the way back from the grave.
Me and Beka, we connect really well, said Longo. Weve done that before. I knew where to be, and I knew where she would hit it.
After a scoreless first overtime that saw each team have its chances, a Surdick challenge in the box on South Rivers Kenidy Springer was deemed too aggressive by the referee, who awarded the Seahawks a penalty kick.
Koenig was given the nod to take the penalty kick, and she stepped up and calmly stuck her shot into the back right side of the net, capping the epic comeback, sending her team and its fans into thunderous celebration, and putting the Seahawks through to the state final four.
For Sis and the Seahawks, a win at Arundel was a long time coming, and to have it happen in a region final makes it that much sweeter.
My hats off to Arundel, said Sis. They just played a great game, made it very competitive. And one of the things is, we havent won here in years. Its been a long time since we won here. Four years ago we played to get into the region final, and they beat us in overtime, so its probably been seven years since we won here, and its just a home-field advantage. To overcome that means we had to play with some huge hearts, so I couldnt be prouder of my players.
Though disappointed by the loss, Coe was nonetheless extremely proud of her squad, and with great reason. The Wildcats finish the year with an undefeated regular season and a regular-season county champion to their name.
Hats off to South River, said Coe. They never gave up, and they fought hard But Im very proud of our girls. Were walking away 16-2, and the coaches are very proud of them.