Cardinal Gibbons coach Michele Miller on her team's runner-up effort
West Forsyth dropped one jaw-dropping goal too many for Cardinal Gibbons in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls soccer state championship game on Saturday at N.C. State.
With time running out in overtime, Titans defender Riley Terry let loose a booming free kick from about 45 yards away.
Like two similarly stunning goals before it, the ball was just over the outstretched hands of the goalkeeper, but just under the crossbar.
West Forsyth held on for the final 2 minutes and 38 seconds to come away with a 4-3 defeat of the Crusaders (22-2-1).
“Their shooting from distance was just amazing, it’s something we didn’t handle well, so credit to them,” Gibbons coach Michele Miller said.
Cardinal Gibbons fell behind early, but the Crusaders were almost comfortable with that. In previous playoff rounds, the Crusaders had come back from halftime deficits with some regularity.
“We just weren’t sure how far we could go and we kept winning and we kept winning. We thought ‘Hey, we’re here, we might as well see if we finish it off’ and we fell one goal short,” Miller said. “I’m just so proud of them.”
West Forsyth (26-1-1) and the Crusaders got into a first-half shootout that was 3-2 in the Titans’ favor when the dust settled.
The Titans struck first in the third minute as Riley Dorman smoked a ball from the right side seconds after stepping in front of an errant Gibbons pass.
But Gibbons answered. Julia Lucas got a toe on a ball in a scrum in the 14th to level the score at 1-all.
One minute later, West Forsyth’s Brooklyn Berry scored her 58th goal of the year with a sparkling header on a corner kick from Amber Skinner. The Titans doubled the lead when Erin Blevins took a pass from Bri Hudnall, turned and fired a shot from 30 yards out. It trickled off the goalkeeper’s fingertips and in for a 3-1 advantage in the 36th minute.
But Gibbons had one more answer.
Haley Garrett scored in almost identical fashion to Lucas in the 38th to conclude the first half’s five goals. Garrett hammered in a rebound that also followed a corner kick scrum.
In the second half, standout sophomore Maggie Pierce – who, along with senior Taylor Currie, created some tense moments for West Forsyth’s defense – equalized in the 63rd. Pierce took the ball off a defender and slotted in the 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper to make it 3-all.
“We just made some mistakes early that they capitalized on and we’ve been in that situation before. We wanted to keep our composure and play our game and find our way back and we did that,” Miller said.
Neither team scored the rest of the way, but Gibbons almost lost it in regulation if not for the hustle of Montgomery Cooling. After a Crusaders defender collided with the oncoming goalkeeper, the ball rolled toward the net. Cooling beat a West Forsyth player to the ball, and the Titans player knocked Cooling in the back to try to win it back. A foul was called, and overtime was on the way minutes later.
Piece hit the crossbar for Gibbons in the first 10-minute overtime period, but West Forsyth did one better to win it in the second one.
“This group was the most talented group that I’ve had,” said Miller, who is in her 16th year coaching the team. “They were just so much fun to work with. They taught me so much about what it means to be dedicated and to love soccer and they made it fun to come to training every day.”