After 80 minutes of scoreless soccer, Abigail Cook scored the winning goal in the penalty kick shootout Thursday to lift DeWitt to its second girls CAAC Gold Cup title.
In the seven-year history of the tournament, each school has played in the Gold Cup final four times and faced each other in three of them.
DeWitt coach Jamal Mubarakeh said he was aware of that history during the game.
“The first CAAC Cup was between us and Williamston, and they beat us,” he said. “In the back of my head, I was thinking about that game and how we needed to play better than in that game.”
In a contest that featured two teams with young attacking players but senior-laden back lines, few quality scoring chances was perhaps to be expected. But this game was unusually dominated by defense on both ends of the field, especially in the first half.
Each team had its best scoring opportunity in the second half, starting immediately after the break.
On the first possession of the second half, DeWitt’s Quinn Hanses sent a perfect cross from the left wing through the Williamston goal area, but it took a bad hop and Mackenzie Dawes kicked it over the goal from about 4 yards out.
With about 17 minutes left in the game, Williamston’s Sarah Tuggle blasted a shot from the corner of the 6-yard box that beat DeWitt goalkeeper Brooklyn Holley but smacked against the goal post. The game ended without a goal, sending it to penalty kicks for the first time.
The shootout was tied 4-4 following five rounds, after Williamston goalkeeper Grace Kraft made a dramatic save on DeWitt’s fifth kick to send it to another round.
DeWitt’s Holley came up with a save, and Cook stepped up and calmly placed the ball inside the post to the right of Kraft to win the title.
“I (was) thinking about how hard we worked tonight,” Cook said. “There were lots of distractions and stuff, but I just tried to stay focused on where I was placing the ball and not looking where it was going to go. I wanted to make sure I got it for my teammates.”
Said Williamston coach Jim Flore: “I thought we played a pretty darned good game. I think (the Panthers) are a little stronger offensively, but we have a very strong defense. It’s a tribute to these girls that we’re one of the last two standing.”
Despite losing the game in what many consider an arbitrary method of determining a result, Flore said a shootout is the right way to settle a tied game in a knockout tournament.
“You can’t continue to stay out there. They’re leaving everything on the field,” Flore said. “The way the CAAC does it — without going to overtime — is great, because we can’t be too tired or injured going into districts.”
Mubarakeh hopes his team’s hard-fought win will be a springboard for a deep run in the Division 2 state tournament.
“We can go far, but I want to see consistency in our play,” he said. “Right now, we’re up and down, playing well in one half here or one half there, but we can play better soccer than we did today. We have good players — they can perform, they can challenge anybody — but they need to be mentally ready for everything.”