Brock Netter, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — You can call Wheelersburg lucky, fortunate or any other synonyms of those words. But just remember to add the word “champions” at the end.
In the most improbable of comebacks, the Pirates rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the second half to stun Eastern Brown by a 4-3 final in overtime on Saturday, thanks to a game-winning goal off the foot of Maddi Kotcamp.
“I was in shock,” Wheelersburg’s Laney Eller said of the game-winner. “As we’re going into the corner, Maddi asked me if she should go to the front post and I just dragged her to the front post and she got it. She’s had a lot of pressure on her for being just a freshman, and I couldn’t be more proud of her for having that moment.”
The win claims the fourth district championship for Wheelersburg (15-3-1) in the last five years. But the journey to get this win was a wild one.
Eastern Brown (13-6) struck the scoreboard first when Mary Litzinger took three straight corner kicks. On the third one, she connected with Emma Prine for a goal and a 1-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
The Warriors dominated ball possession throughout much of the first half while Wheelersburg struggled to connect passes.
Yet, the Pirates managed to get a free kick.
Ellie Kallner took that strike and it bounced into the keeper’s hands before slipping away into the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1.
More back-and-forth play ensued for the next 20 minutes, just before Wheelersburg whiffed trying to clear a ball. It bounced to the feet of Eastern’s Rylee Leonard, who drilled a shot into the goal to put the Warriors ahead 2-1 at halftime.
PHOTOS: Images from Wheelersburg’s win over Eastern Brown
The Warriors continued to put the pressure on early in the second half, knowing that adding another goal, quite possibly, could seal the deal.
Prine received a pass deep in Pirate territory, took a couple dribbles into the box and finished with her left foot into the bottom right corner for a goal that pushed the lead to 3-1.
“A lot of times in the past, when we’re trailing late in a game, our heads get down and we fall into this lull of playing with no energy,” Kallner said. “But we had to keep our energy and make something happen. We knew we could do it, we just had to play like we knew how to.”
Just three minutes after Eastern’s goal, Wheelersburg scored off a corner that Kylan Darnell connected on with a header, cutting the lead to 3-2.
25 minutes of clock melted away and then it happened. That Wheelersburg magic made its presence known.
The Pirates received a free kick that was taken by Jocelyn Tilley. Her first shot hit directly off a Warrior defender and bounced right back to her, so she struck a sky-high kick that perfectly landed into the top right corner of the net, just below the crossbar and above the outstretched GK’s arms to tie the game 3-3 with less than four minutes left.
“That was just beautiful,” Kallner said. “I watched and I thought it was going over the goal, but it landed right in the perfect spot into the net. I couldn’t believe it. But I ran right over to her to celebrate.”
With new life and rejuvenated energy, the Pirates pushed the game into overtime and that magic happened again. They were awarded a corner and after a couple of errant bounces, Kotcamp got a foot on the ball before it hit off an Eastern player and crossed the goal line for the win.
“She’s our freshman and plays defense so she doesn’t lay up top at all,” Kallner said. “But it was such an amazing moment and I couldn’t have been more excited for her and the team.”
Wheelersburg advances to a Division III regional semifinal against Lynchburg-Clay at 7 p.m., Tuesday. The Pirates will host that contest.
The Mustangs and Pirates met in regional semifinals in both 2016 and 2017. Lynchburg walked away victorious on both occasions.
But the Pirates own the last head-to-head victory, which was a 2-1 win in a Division III district final in 2018.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” Eller said. “We’ve had our ups and downs with our energy but throughout the tournament, we’ve kept it higher than our opponents and hopefully its trend we’ll continue in regionals.”