Mark Kadlecik, the girls’ soccer coach at East Chapel Hill, didn’t have a script for this. Kadlecik knows that in the regular season, matches can end in ties after overtime. The Wildcats game against Sanderson on Thursday night was different. This was the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
After regulation and two periods of extra time, with the match tied at 3, the Wildcats topped the Spartans 4-3 in penalty kicks to advance to the next round of the NCHSAA playoffs.
Kadlecik was given five minutes to think over his five-player lineup for the shootout. Just before the penalty kicks, Kadlecik wanted Lauren Douglass to be the fifth and final player, just in case the match came down to her.
It did. Kadlecik, and the rest of the Wildcats, watched Douglass send her shot into the net to give the Wildcats the win.
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“She is mentally tough,” Kadlecik said of Douglass. “That’s why I put her in the five spot, because I knew she could handle the pressure.”
Douglass, a forward, knew she would be one of the Wildcats to take a penalty kick. When she learned she would be the last one, she started to visualize how the match might end.
Walking up to the penalty box, Douglass knew where she was going to send her shot: low and to the left.
“I knew I had to place it really well instead of kicking it really hard,” she said. “I was thinking about it standing in the midfield.”
Douglass took a steady approach to the ball after the referee blew his whistle.
With her head down, she used the inside of her left foot to send her shot past Sanderson goalkeeper Kaylyn Braga.
Hanna Gardner, a midfield who also scored on her penalty kick, was one of the first teammates to congratulate Douglass with a hug.
Gardner was key to the Wildcats’ (14-5-3) comeback victory, scoring two goals. Her second came in the 78th minute to force overtime.
“We had the character to come back,” Gardner said. “We fought really hard. It did make things exciting.”
Sanderson entered the playoffs as a five seed, and one of the last teams to earn a postseason berth. The Spartans (8-9-4) didn’t play like it.
Sanderson controlled the ball well in the first half and put constant pressure on East Chapel Hill’s defense. Two own-goals by the Wildcats gave the Spartans a 3-1 lead early in the second half.
“We were playing well and running fast in the first 20 minutes of the game,” Sanderson coach Todd Worley said. “But (Gardner) took over for them. She was the difference.”
Gardner’s match-tying goal came on a rebound off a shot by Douglass deep in Sanderson’s territory.
“I was lucky,” Gardner said. “Lauren was really aggressive and for me to follow it up was great.”
Kadlecik said the win was the Wildcats’ sixth come-from-behind victory this season.
After the match, he gave his team a short message.
“I know we’re the Wildcats, and we’re getting close to spending all of our nine lives,” Kadlecik said. “I think we spent about three of them tonight.”