Confidence is key for any player taking a penalty kick. Essex forward Maria Reed found hers at the end of practice Tuesday.
And she needed it Wednesday.
Scoring once in each penalty-kick round, Reed’s second tally clinched Essex’s 9-7 shootout win over Burlington in the Division I high school girls soccer semifinals at Buck Hard Field.
When 80 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime couldn’t settle a 1-1 deadlock, Reed’s right-foot blast sent the No. 6 Hornets past the second-seeded Seahorses and into Saturday’s state final against two-time defending champion Champlain Valley.
“Knowing that we could win just by that shot, I just went up and told myself I could do it,” Reed said. “I composed myself, calmed myself down and just shot it.”
But that focus was something Reed had lost during Tuesday’s practice, where she was sailing PKs over the crossbar.
“Maria didn’t want to shoot, kept kicking them over. I said, ‘Maria, you just gotta stop thinking about it and hit it,'” Essex coach Bill O’Neil said. “And she hit the last three in (during practice).
“She’s pretty stoic when she steps up to play. She’s a tough kid,” O’Neil said.
Scoring the go-ahead goal in the quarterfinal comeback at Rice, Reed said converting a PK chance is unlike anything else in the sport. Her sealing strike was a high blast off the hands of BHS goalkeeper Norah Mitchell.
“That’s probably the hardest thing to do in soccer,” Reed said. “It’s very stressful — all the pressure.”
Charlotte Stuart, who gave Essex a 1-0 lead late in the first half, Anna Weith, Allie Astor, Grace Palker and Reed were Essex’s penalty takers for both rounds.
Essex forced a second round of PKs when goalkeeper Essie Fiore made a save to her left on Burlington’s fifth shot. The Hornets (12-4-1) made all five of their kicks in the second run-through.
Of the extra PK practice during the playoffs, O’Neil said, “We don’t do it a lot during the year to be honest with you, so for preparation for this we did. It paid off in the end. My shooters were pretty good today.”
While Essex survived the shootout, it left Burlington with heartbreak. Five years ago, it was the Seahorses who won in a shootout over Essex for the D-I crown.
“It’s just tough on all of us. It reminds me when we beat them in 2008. Maybe it was a little payback,” Burlington coach Jeff Hayes said, whose team had its 10-game winning streak halted to finish at 13-4. “It was a great, great year for these girls.”
Building pressure for much of the first half, Essex finally connected on a breakaway chance from Stuart with 5:18 to go. Stuart slipped behind the defense to collect Jessica Poratti’s well-timed through ball and touched a shot past Mitchell.
The Seahorses used halftime to adjust and picked up their energy in the opening minutes of the second half. That paid off in the 46th minute, when Kaitlin Donahue’s free kick was headed into the back of the net by a fearless Maddy Feeney for the equalizer.
Stuart generated the best chances on either side after intermission, including two shots that hit the left post, one of which came midway through the first overtime period.
Fiore finished with seven saves for Essex while Mitchell stopped eight shots for BHS.
The Hornets earned a title-game rematch with CVU, another crack at the state’s best.
“We are excited and proud of these kids and CVU is going to be a mountain to climb,” O’Neil said.