Gaither also advances as runner-up
By Kyle LoJacono
It seemed inevitable Freedom High and Gaither High would match up for the Class 5A-District 9 championship, and the Patriots had just enough to come through 1-0 in penalty kicks for the title Jan. 21.
Freedom converted four penalty kicks to Gaither’s three. The two squads entered the tournament as the top ranked teams, with the Cowboys earning the No. 1 seed and Freedom as No. 2
“We were excited to take on Gaither,” said first-year Freedom coach Jenna Ball. “They were our first district game. We tied them 1-1 and we’ve wanted another shot at them.”
Freedom (11-1-3) won the district last year, eliminating the Cowboys (10-5-2). The Patriots reached the regional semifinals in 2010.
“We were looking forward to playing Freedom again,” said second-year Gaither coach Trevor Scott. “They’re a great team.”
Both teams will play in regionals after reaching the finals of the tournament, which was played at Gaither.
Both teams had difficult games just to reach the final. Freedom defeated Hillsborough High 1-0 Jan. 19. Patriots junior goalkeeper Emily Ball came up with 15 saves to preserve the win.
“She was the key for us tonight,” Jenna said. “We can thank her for that win. She played amazing and she led the team in the back with her confidence. The team fed off that and she made some amazing saves.”
Emily knew she was locked in.
“I can tell when I’m in the zone because I don’t hesitate,” said Emily, who is also a team captain. “I just feel the game. It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done.”
The lone goal came on the first shot of the game for Freedom from junior Jenna Stiling, her team-leading 14th of the year.
Gaither had to come from behind to take down Sickles High 3-2 in the semis. The Gryphons scored the first two goals of the game and had a 2-0 halftime lead before junior Kaycee McGuire took over.
McGuire limped off the field with an injured ankle in the opening minutes of the contest. She fought through the injury and came back to not only record the game tying assist on a corner kick, but also score the game-winning goal with 8:25 remaining in the game.
“I’ve had a couple injuries to both my ankles and she just caught me and it turned,” McGuire said.
The winning goal came on a direct free kick that sailed over a wall of Sickles defenders to just sneak in under the crossbar.
“I thought it was going over,” McGuire said. “When it dipped in I was just speechless.”
A very thick fog rolled in over the field in the first half that was accompanied with much colder air. Despite barely being able to see, the Cowboys battled through the elements.
“Ultimately it’s just not giving up,” Scott said. “Every single one of them wanted it. I told them at halftime that Sickles
seemed to want it more than us in the first half and I think that made my girls mad. So I looked at them and told them you have to work for your seniors. I told them they only have 40 minutes left. Some of these seniors are never going to play soccer again after this year. They worked for their seniors tonight.”
The other Cowboys goals came from Taylor Meek and Samantha Knowles.
Freedom next plays at home against Naples Gulf Coast High, while Gaither must travel to Venice High. Both games are Thursday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.