DOVER — Padua and Smyrna battled for nearly 45 minutes of the DIAA Division I girls soccer championship game tied at a goal each, and few in the crowded bleachers at Dover High School on June 1 would have been surprised to see another period needed to reach a conclusion.
The Pandas, however, wanted nothing to do with the unpredictability of overtime. They avoided the extra session with an Anna Poehlmann goal in the 78th minute, giving top-seeded Padua the lead with about a minute to go and the eventual 2-1 victory over the No. 3 Eagles. It was Padua’s 11th state championship and one of the hardest-earned of the bunch.
“I knew if it went to overtime it could be anybody’s game, so we really had to push, and I thought we did. We kept the pressure up, just kept shooting, following, getting our crosses off,” Poehlmann said.
Smyrna tied the game late in the first half, and the teams spent the entire second half in search of the championship-winning goal. The teams had 40 minutes and used just about all of them.
Early on in the second half it was all Padua. One free kick was wide left, and another from Brieana Hallo glanced off the Eagles’ wall and was saved by senior goalkeeper Sofia Lerro. Shortly thereafter, Sydni Wright sent a shot over the net. The Pandas came even closer in the 49th as Skylar Salvo rang a shot off the crossbar above Lerro, and Wright just missed on a corner kick.
Desiree Zapata, the dynamic Smyrna freshman, was held in check most of the game by Padua defender Morgan Dawson, but she managed a left-footed shot in the 50th that was stopped by Pandas keeper Colleen McClintock. That was the Eagles’ best chance of the first 20 minutes of the second half.
An even better opportunity presented itself in the 66th minute. Kelly Barr nearly gave the Eagles the advantage, but her shot on a counter was a bit high and hit off the football crossbar.
The Pandas kept the pressure on, forcing a Lerro save in the 68th minute on a free kick from Hallo. Eagles defender Alyssa McLamb prevented a goal when she took a shot to the face, and she had to leave the game to stop the bleeding from her nose. Sophia Holgado was stopped by Lerro in the 73rd, and Hallo got under the rebound from point-blank range and sent it high over the end line as the score remained knotted at 1-1.
With at least one 10-minute sudden-death overtime looming, Poehlmann played the hero. A clearing attempt by the Eagles was stopped by Juliana DelliCompagni. She tapped the ball to Wright, who lofted a ball into the corner down the right side. There, Haley Dougherty caught up to it, send a crossing pass into the box, where Poehlmann was waiting to chip the ball high into the net.
“Haley Dougherty, she was dribbling down the sideline and hit a beautiful cross, and then I was there. It was perfect,” Poehlmann said. “The perfect cross.”
Wright was confident the Pandas would finally solve Lerro.
“We kept getting so many chances, and I was hoping we’d get something up. I kept looking at the clock, and I saw we were at two minutes left, and we got the right ball, and Anna was in there, and we were able to finish on time,” she said.
On the sidelines, first-year head coach Matt Sturdivant had a good feeling.
“Me and my staff, we knew one was going to come. One was going to fall for us. We had faith in the girls that they were going to pull one off, and luckily they did before we had to go to overtime,” he said.
“Poehlmann has a nose for a goal. She got hurt halfway through the year, so she missed five or six games. She’s been battling back from an ankle injury, and this is what we saved her for basically is to be in there.”
Early on, it looked like it might be another big night on the scoreboard for the Pandas. They forced Lerro to make a save in the first minute, and they earned their first corner kick in the third. Smyrna survived both of those attempts, but Hallo struck in the fifth. Taking a pass from Wright, she sent a laser off the hands of Lerro and into the short side of the net.
“I think it was something we needed to start off with. The energy was high, the passion was high. To start it like that was a good booster,” Hallo said.
The Pandas kept the pressure on with several chances missing the target, and Lerro made some big saves, including on a one-on-one against Hallo from just a few feet away. The Eagles hung tough, and they knotted the score in the 34th. Mackenzie Martin took advantage of the wind behind her as she ticketed a long blast to the upper 90 over McClintock.
Final statistics were not available early Wednesday morning. Padua finished the season 16-1.
The Eagles ended their campaign at 14-4.
All photos by Mike Lang.