FLORENCE — A game that was like an 80-minute roller-coaster ride for Mars Hill and Pope John Paul II fans came down to one of the most pressure-packed plays in soccer — a penalty kick.
With the game tied at 3 with just two minutes remaining, Mars Hill was called for a hand ball in the box, resulting in a penalty kick. Pope John Paul’s Beryl Newchurch calmly stepped up to the penalty spot and banged home the goal that put the Falcons into the second round of the Class 1A-4A playoffs and eliminated the Panthers 4-3.
Mars Hill had one more chance to tie the game and send it to overtime, but goalkeeper Paige Prylinski made a sprawling one-handed save on a shot by Anna Katherine Green in the final minute.
“I’m really proud of the way the girls played today,” Mars Hill coach Nathan Knox said. “That is a tough team that plays in one of the toughest sections in the whole state. And we were with them step for step.”
Mars Hill jumped out to an early 2-0 lead as Taylor Wideman scored just three minutes in. Green followed up nine minutes later.
“That’s the fastest start we’ve gotten out to the whole year,” Knox said. “The girls came out really ready to play and took it right to them early.”
Pope John Paul II got one goal back two minutes after Green’s goal when Alex Peterson scored. Neither team scored in the final 25 minutes of the half and the Panthers had a 2-1 halftime lead.
It didn’t take long for Pope John Paul to tie the game after the restart, as Newchurch scored the first of her three goals just five minutes into the second half. The Falcons took the lead midway through the half on another Newchurch goal.
After seeing Pope John Paul score three consecutive goals, Mars Hill came back with one of its own with nine minutes remaining. The defender marking Green slipped, leaving her with an open path to the goal. She took advantage of the opportunity, burying the ball in the right corner of the goal to tie it at 3.
The game appeared destined for overtime, but an innocuous-looking play turned disastrous for Mars Hill when the ball bounced up and hit the Panthers player in the arm during a battle for possession at the top of the box. The play resulted in the winning penalty kick by Newchurch.
“The girls told me after the game that they gave 110 percent, and that’s all you can ask of them,” Knox said. “I’m proud of what we accomplished this season. It’s been a great year.”