Last Second Heroics Allow the Lady Jags to Advance to Regional Finals
As regulation time regional in semi-final girls, soccer game between the Northwest Jaguars and the Wootton Patriots came to end the linesman officiating the 1-1 tie was heard to say, “I will bet we are going to play two full 10-minute overtimes, and this will come down to penalty kicks.”
He was half right.
Both teams played two tremendous, physical, and exciting overtime sessions, but Northwest’s Leanna Choo wasn’t having any part of penalty kicks.
Northwest’s Coach Josh Kinnetz had the sophomore on the bench for a breather. She had been playing most of the game, but she’d been nursing both a cold and sore ankle from an injury suffered earlier in the game.
On a Northwest throw-in, Kinnetz substituted Choo into the game with roughly 4:44 seconds remaining in the second OT. Four minutes and 34 seconds later, Choo would end the game.
With less than 10 seconds remaining in the second overtime, the Choo caught up to a beautiful through-ball from junior midfielder Samantha Sekscienski and raced with the ball on her feet while being pursued by Wootton’s Meredith Murdock. Murdock ran stride-for-side with Choo, hounding her for the ball. Choo deftly kept the ball far enough in front to avoid Murdock’s attempts to kick it away.
With time ticking away and the possibilities of a well-fought match being left to the often unjust fates of penalty kicks, Choo struck. Just inside the 18-yard penalty box, Choo poked the ball with her left foot, and it sailed up and over the outstretched arms of Wootton’s goalkeeper, Andie Stave in into the back of the net.
The scoreboard clock read .5 seconds remaining, as Choo was mobbed by her teammates and coaches in a victory celebration.
“Leanna has a way to find the ball,” said Kinnetz. “She has a soccer intelligence about her, and she found the ball in a big spot.”
“My adrenaline was pumping, and my leg was hurting,” said Choo. “I saw Sam running with the ball, and I noticed I was open, so I started screaming for the ball. I just turned and saw the goalie and shot it.”
The Lady Jags came into Friday night’s game at Gaithersburg High School with a record of 9-1-1, coming off a 2-1 first-round playoff win over Quince Orchard. While the Patriots were 8-4, with a 4-2 first-round victory over Clarksburg.
The teams played to a 0-0 tie at halftime. “We came out and executed our game plan from the start,” said Kinnetz. “I thought we had momentum at the beginning of the game. Credit to Wootton they are a really good game. I think we escaped in the first half. For a good 10 or 15 minutes, they really laid a lot of pressure on us. But the girls were able to stay with, they kept their heads and kept their composure.”
Wootton got the scoring started 9 minutes into the second half. Wootton’s Jillian Gonzalez scored on a direct kick, after a foul by the Lady Jags. Gonzalez boomed the ball over the Northwest defense and into the goal, over the Jags’ keeper Morgan O’Brien.
Northwest would get the equalizer less than a minute later. Sekscienski dropped a goal over Wootton’s keepers head from well beyond the eighteen box, and the regulation game would end in a 1-1 tie.
The first overtime session was all Wootton. The Patriots pressured the Lady Jags, who were kept in the game by the play of their junior keeper Morgan O’Brien, who was able to keep an attacking Wootton team out of the goal during a consistent surge of action in the Northwest defending a third of the field. But the first OT would end as it began locked in a 1-1 tie.
“Overtime is all about grit and determination,” said Kinnetz. “It is just about digging down deep and staying strong.”
The Lady Jags came out in the second 10 minute overtime and were able to control possession and set up shots in the Wootton attacking zone, earning three or four corner kicks and generally keeping the Patriots on their heels, until Choo’s last second heroics.
“I am so proud of this squad,” said Kinnetz. “We are going back to the regional final game for the second year in a row. That is a huge achievement for this program. Obliviously, the next step is get beyond the regionals. We have a tough opponent ahead of us, in Churchill. It will be all about coming down from the emotional high of this game and refocusing on that next game.”
The next game will be the regional final against 12-1-1 Churchill. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since a Sept. 10 defeat at the hands of Urbana. The regional finals will be played at Wootton High School on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 5:15 pm.
Top: Northwest’s Leanna Choo (3) races toward the Wootton goal as Wootton’s Meredith Murdock (6) attempts to kick the ball way. Choo would score the game-winning goal with .5 seconds remaining on the clock.
Next: Northwest goalkeeper Morgan O’Brien (12) prepares to defend a Wootton corner kick in the first overtime session.
Next: Samantha Sekscienski (9) boots the Jags equalizing goal in the second half, to tie the game at 1-1.
Next: Northwest forward Hannah Godsey (14) takes a shot in the second half. The Wootton goalkeeper, Andie Stave was able to come up with the save.
Next: Senior forward Kelly Miller (6) heads a ball away from Wootton’s Sarah Alkon (2).
Next: Northwest senior Hannah Crook attempts to play a ball on a throw in during Friday’s semi-final victory over Wootton.
Next: Leanna Choo (3) celebrates with teammates after scoring the winning goal.
Photos by Germantown Pulse