Ashland girls soccer coach E.B. Lowman watched as Emma Wonn’s kick sailed to the top left corner of the goal. He then celebrated after it grazed the top of the goalkeeper’s fingers and made its way in.
Ashland tied the game in the 71st minute, and then picked up a 2-1 shootout victory over East Carter to win the 16th Region girls soccer championship on Saturday afternoon at Rowan County High School.
After going scoreless in the two five-minute sudden death overtime periods, Ashland survived by taking the shootout, 4-3, much to the surprise of Lowman.
“We’re so depleted because we’re hurt and we even have two starters still out,” he said. “Who would have thunk it? This bunch just keeps finding ways to win.”
The LadyCats’ first three kickers — sophomores Aidan Young and Charity Collins, and senior Sarah Hudson — all found the net around goalkeeper Starr Caldwell.
“They buried it,” Lowman said. Their keeper is a very good goalkeeper. She’s tough and it’s good for her in what she has done at East Carter.”
During regulation, Lowman had fourth-string keeper Katie Hornbuckle make her first start in the net.
But as soon as the game’s second overtime period ended, Lowman looked to former starting goalkeeper Young, now usually a midfielder, and told her to put on the goalie shirt.
“Aidan is just a really good athlete,” Lowman said. “She’s the goalie we go to and we always go to her in shootout situations.”
East Carter’s Taylor Burnett missed the first goal wide left, but then Macy Dyer and Amber Hall made the next two for the Lady Raiders.
After that, Alexa Sturgill kicked one that started sailing to the right of Young. It ended up right in the middle of Young’s hands.
Sturgill’s miss was then followed by Wonn’s decisive goal. For East Carter’s Ben Fritz, the heartbreak of his team not being able to bring home its second consecutive region title set in.
“We fought hard and you have to give credit to Ashland,” Fritz said. “It’s been us and Ashland, back and forth. We’ve played each other in the finals for three years now and it’s always a hard-fought game.”
In the first half, East Carter controlled the pace of the game and had more shots on goal than Ashland — the Lady Raiders had nine compared to the LadyCats’ four.
The Lady Raiders (17-2-1) took an early lead when a Burnett free kick was caught by Hornbuckle, but was bobbled and fell into the net for a score.
“Taylor hit that ball really well,” Fritz said. “The goalkeeper got her hands on it, but somehow it just slipped through.”
After watching his team struggle to move the ball against East Carter in the first 70 minutes of the match, Lowman watched as Collins, his leading scorer, got the ball into East Carter’s penalty area.
Collins was sandwiched between two East Carter defenders and was awarded a penalty shot. The sophomore then did what she does best by putting the ball past the keeper and into the net.
“It was huge and they defended us really well,” Lowman said. “Charity is very poised and she’s definitely our go-to player. She’s a captain and the leader of the team and she just confidently blasted it past the keeper.”
For Fritz, though, it was disappointing to watch 70 minutes of his team’s good defense go to waste with a penalty call of that nature.
“I thought the foul could be considered a cheap call, but that’s part of the game,” he said. “That’s what you have to deal with during a soccer game. I’m not making excuses and I’m not complaining. That’s just the way things happen.”
Ashland (16-6-4) now advances to Semi-State 4, in which the LadyCats will play against 15th Region champion Lawrence County in Louisa on Monday at 7 p.m.
Ashland won its fourth district title in five years, and now has won its third region title in that span. In beating the team that beat them last year, it’s a huge confidence boost for Lowman and the LadyCats.
“They’re a good team and I have a tremendous respect for Ben Fritz,” Lowman said. “If we win on Monday that puts us in the Elite 8 and we get to go down-state and play. We just hope we can get a chance. It’s awesome.”
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.