The "little team that could" nearly did it again, but in the end the Patriot Pioneers couldn't overcome a talented and speedy South County Stallions team, losing 2-1 in the Class 6 state title game Wednesday night.
Despite being outshot 17-9 in the second half, Patriot (12-1-2) stayed right with the Stallions until the 83rd minute when South County's Dani Shanin took advantage of a corner kick.
She lofted the ball to the left point of the goal box then sped to the point. One of her Stallions teammates got a touch on it and sent it back to her.
Shanin then drilled a high, arcing kick that went well above a leaping goalkeeper Abby Ochs and into the right corner of the goal, providing the final margin for South County, who like Patriot was playing in its first state title game.
Longtime Patriot coach Kelly Beauchamp-Payne, who has guided the Pioneers along with assistant Brian Foley, since the school opened 10 years ago, said she was proud of how the team played.
"We knew what to expect from them, but I don't think they expected what they got from us," Beauchamp-Payne said. "I am proud of our defensive backline, our midfielders, and our forwards. We had our chances."
South County's quickness became a factor early when junior forward Jaidyn Curry gave the Stallions a 1-0 lead in the first three minutes following a rare defensive lapse by Patriot.
But the Pioneers regrouped and scored off a corner kick about 13 minutes later. Senior midfielder Cassidy Duncan took the corner and looped the ball directly toward the center of the goal. South County's Olivia Murray fielded the ball, but stepped over the line when catching it, essentially causing an "own goal" that tied the game at 1-1.
The second half featured a clinic by Ochs. During a five minute sequence she notched three diving saves, including two that caused her to leap horizontally to corral the ball and one more where she knocked a high looping kick away for a corner kick. Overall, Ochs notched 10 saves, including seven in the second half as the Stallions' frenetic offensive pace caused them to pepper Ochs with shots.
Beauchamp-Payne said while she was devastated by the way the season ended, and felt badly for her seniors, she felt proud to reach a destination many other teams would have liked to reach.
"I'm happy for the opportunity. I think we've had a taste of it and it was fun to play for the state title, so the [girls coming back] will absolutely be ready and hungry to come back,” Beauchamp-Payne said. “While I feel badly for the seniors, this is a happy group and one of the seniors just said to another player, 'You brought my joy for soccer back,' so even though they might be sad, I think they are also happy and I feel the same way."