by Andrew Hatton
CVT Sports Writer
After reaching the 14th Region Championship game with a thrilling overtime victory over Letcher County Central, the Lady Engineer soccer team fell in overtime to Perry County Central in the title game.
Following their fifth straight 54th District Championship, the Lady Engineers entered the regional tournament as one of the top seeds. On top of that, Estill was also looking to defend their 2015 14th Region Championship.
The first game of the week was the semifinal matchup with the Lady Cougars of Letcher County. Letcher had delivered Estill’s only loss in regional play earlier in the season, beating Estill 1-0 with a last minute goal. The Lady Cougars were also the team the Lady Engineers took down in last year’s title game.
Estill came out strong to begin the game, with Autumn Tipton getting the Lady Engineers on the board early. Kennedy Horn played Tipton in behind the defense and the Estill midfielder drove all the way to the goal before passing it into the net.
The Lady Engineers took the 1-0 advantage into halftime, but Letcher was looking to come out strong in the second half. They did just that, jumping on a defensive breakdown to draw the game level, 1-1.
Letcher was then awarded a free kick in a dangerous area following an Estill foul. The Lady Cougars would fire the shot on goal and into the back of the net to take the 2-1 lead with just minutes remaining.
Needing a goal to extend their soccer lives, Estill pushed forward, looking to create offensive opportunities. They did just that, planting themselves deep within Cougar territory.
Megan Scott received the ball and found Autumn Tipton who beat a defender before blasting the shot by the keeper to draw things level. At the end of regulation, the score would finish 2-2.
The two teams then entered two-five minute overtime periods. With golden goal rules applied, the first team to score would win and advance. As both periods played out, neither team gave in meaning that the two teams were destined for a penalty kick shootout.
If you’ve never experienced a PK shootout in person, it is one of the most tense and anxiety-filled moments in all of sports. A PK consists of a shot from 12-yards out with only the goalkeeper in your way.
Each shooter must make a long 40-yard walk to the spot. Opposing fans yelling at you while you make the slow trek with all that time to over think. Then you set the ball, step up with the game on the line, the official blows the whistle and the feeling of complete isolation consumes you.
On the opposite side of that, the goalkeeper is put in a position to fail. A goal 8-feet tall and 24-feet wide and an open set shot from 12-yards away; the advantage belongs to the shooter.
Letcher would shoot first, meaning that Estill’s standout goalkeeper, Savannah Brewer, would be first to defend. She would do just that.
Brewer blocked the Lady Cougar’s first shot and set the tone for the Lady Engineers. Megan Scott would step up first for Estill and bury her attempt to go up 1-0.
Letcher’s next two shooters would each see their shots blocked by Brewer, in what was one of the most impressive performances ever seen at the 14th Region tournament.
Estill’s next shooter would be Freshman Kalea Hatton. The underclassmen would let the nerves get to her and push her shot just wide. But Senior Autumn Tipton would follow her up with a goal to extend Estill’s advantage to 2-0.
The Lady Cougars’ fourth shooter would find the corner to get Letcher on the board, but all Estill would need is one more goal to lock up the victory. For that shot, Estill would have Senior Captain and five-year member of the team, Kennedy Horn step up to the spot.
Horn had taken part in two previous shootouts in her high school career. Her sophomore year ended in a shootout loss in the regional semifinal, and her junior year ended in a shootout win to give Estill the regional title.
The Lady Engineer talisman stepped up and placed her shot into the corner to advance Estill to the 14th Region Championship game.
Only the pure triumph and euphoria of winning in that moment outweigh the anxiety of what came before it. But that joy is short-lived as the players shift their focus to the next game and their chance at becoming the first back-to-back regional champions in Estill County soccer history.
On Thursday night, Estill would arrive back at Perry County Central, this time to take on the hosts and their ruthlessly hostel fan-base. To make matters worse, the weather wasn’t cooperating as a rainstorm rolled through East Perry.
If you’ve never played soccer on a rain-soaked turf field, it plays more like an ice rink. The ball moves incredibly fast, like a downhill putt on the greens at Augusta, making passing and link-up play exceedingly difficult.
The Lady Commodores would welcome the home-field advantage of course. Their experience in these conditions would play a big part in leveling the playing field between them and the Lady Engineers that had defeated them at Hoover Niece Field just a few weeks prior.
From the first whistle, Perry’s game plan was evident: go at Estill’s leading scorer, Autumn Tipton, and try to draw some sort of retaliation out of her. They would be successful.
In the game’s opening minutes, players from the Lady Commodores began taking cheap shots at Tipton. Not being one to back down, the Estill senior went right back at them. The official brought them together but issued no cards.
Minutes later, Tipton went up to head the ball out of the air and collided with a Perry defender. The official blew his whistle, pulled out a yellow card and issued it to Tipton. The Engineer sideline and fan-base erupted.
For such a key player to be given a card that early in the game was crushing to the Estill side. One more card and Estill not only loses their leading scorer, but will be forced to play with 10 players as well.
The Lady Engineers fought on, making some changes to their strategy. Perry continued to take cheap shots and late fouls on players, trying to draw out some sort of retaliation from the Estill players known for their fiery competitiveness.
To go along with that, after giving out the early card, the official seemed scared to issue any more. Plays that would garner cards in any other circumstance were met with nothing more than a warning.
On multiple occasions, the Lady Engineers would be driving the ball down to start the attack when a Lady Commodore would trip or foul them from behind. This play is always met with a card in soccer. In this particular game, it was met with nothing.
Despite all of this, both teams battled all game long, creating some half chances, but never finding the back of the net. Estill would again be forced into overtime play.
Again, two overtime periods would be played with neither team finding a way into the goal. The Lady Engineers would have to go through another PK shootout in their pursuit of another 14th Region Championship.
Estill would go first this time, with Megan Scott stepping up and burying the first shot for the Lady Engineers. Perry’s first shooter would match.
Kalea Hatton, the freshman that had missed in the semifinal was called into action yet again. The nerves would not get the best of her this time as the underclassmen redeemed herself with a shot to the corner of the goal.
The Lady Commodores would have their shot blocked by Savannah Brewer, leaving the door open for Estill to take the lead. Autumn Tipton stepped up like she had many times before, but on this occasion she would push her shot wide right. Perry would come back with a goal; 2-2.
Kennedy Horn, who had made the game-clinching goal in the semifinal was next. The senior stepped up and pulled her shot just inches to the left of the goal. The Lady Commodores would score on their next attempt to go up one.
Senior Brittney Fowler would have to score on the next attempt to keep the Lady Engineers’ hopes alive. She would do just that. But the door was still open for the Lady Commodores to win. Their captain and final shooter of their first five stepped up with a chance to win the game and blasted her shot high, sailing over the crossbar.
The teams would then enter the next segment of the shootout, this time with a golden-goal format. Each team would get a shot or chance to match the other. If each pair of shooters tied, it would continue until a winner could be named.
Perry would go first this round, and their first shooter would step up and place her shot into the top right corner. Advantage Lady Commodores. Estill Sophomore Billie Brooks would then step up with Perry Central fans continuing to scream obscene profanity just yards away from her like they had all evening long.
The Lady Engineer midfielder fired her shot above the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper, the ball hit the crossbar, bounced downward and out away from the goal. No good.
The Lady Commodores of Perry County Central would win and capture their first regional title since realignment. The Estill County Lady Engineers would be named regional runner-up for the third time in five years. A heartbreaking result, but one they should still take pride in.