East girls soccer earns spot in regional quarterfinals
Video: Victoria East survives and advances in girls soccer playoffs
CORPUS CHRISTI - The seconds could not dwindle fast enough.
The bench was on its feet, hoping the zeroes would come. The defense was entrenched, kicking away any loose balls. The midfielders spent more time defending than creating in the final moments.
Where possible, the visitors huffed the ball forward, searching for a respite. It came with 91 seconds remaining as the clinching goal eased all the anxiety.
But the unease was all worth it for the Victoria East girls soccer team.
Not only did Madison Hawkins' goal release the tension, it helped Victoria East eliminate Flour Bluff 3-1 in Thursday's Class 4A sectional soccer game.
"It's amazing," Hawkins said. "We heard how great this team was. It made us want to beat them and show them what we had."
It was the same score as the last meeting between the two schools, but Thursday's game featured more intensity from both sides.
As Victoria East coach Misty Boenig congratulated her team, the Titans players noticed their coach had tears in her eyes. Across the field, Flour Bluff's coach, Mario Lopez, congratulated both teams with a decidedly glum look on his face.
"They played well. What are you going to say?" Lopez said. "You have to give it to them. Congratulations. I wish them the best of luck. They are going to do well. I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the regional tournament."
The Titans (20-5-1) aren't quite there yet. East will face either Roma or Mercedes in a Class 4A regional quarterfinal at a time and location to be determined. Should the Titans win that contest, Lopez's prediction would be prophetic.
For now, the Titans are enjoying the spotlight of being the last representative from District 59-4A in the playoffs this season.
It certainly wasn't easy. Flour Bluff forwards Caleigh Tucker, Marisa Matthijetz and Sophia Paulison used their speed to storm the Titans defense.
"It's very hard actually. I don't really go against anyone who is that fast, their speed was definitely a challenge," said East central defender Lauren Ragnow.
Sometimes Flour Bluff's tactic worked. Tucker's speed threatened to punish any East mistake. Other times it did not. Flour Bluff (18-7-3) was judged offside seven times.
"I was definitely getting tired," Ragnow said. "I was trying to save energy to go against (Tucker.) Our defense really needed to talk a lot. The challenge was definitely high."
Tucker's matchup with Ragnow and Kendyl Charbula was one of many throughout the field. East's Jahnae Mata against the Lady Hornets' Sloane Taylor was another, as was Hawkins' duel with Flour Bluff's central defenders.
Hawkins won her contest, and it resulted in two Titans goals.
Her first was in the 12th minute when East goalkeeper Kelsey Ferry punted the ball downfield. The Lady Hornets defenders tried to control the ball on the bounce but could not. Hawkins got past the pair, shielded the defenders with her body and shot with her right foot to open the scoring.
"There was pushing in defense," Hawkins said afterward. "Whenever I got pushed I had to use my speed to get back up there."
Hawkins' second came with 91 seconds remaining, and she fought off a challenge from the defense and the goalkeeper to put in her sixth goal in three playoff games.
East took a 2-0 lead in the 49th minute when Mata's corner kick was met on the volley by Rachel Mansker. The goal was reminiscent of Mansker's goal in the Jan. 12 meeting between the two schools, except Mansker scored with a header that time.
Flour Bluff made things interesting when Haleigh Lombardo's long-range strike found the back of the net in the 64th minute.
Her goal set up the dramatic conclusion, one that did not reach its dnouement until the final seconds. Flour Bluff took 14 shots in the second half, but eight second-half saves from Ferry and a selfless defense from their opponents prevented the Lady Hornets from tying the game.
"It is indescribable," Ragnow said giggling with joy. "I've never been this far in the playoffs. With this team it's just amazing. It's indescribable. I love it very much."