ASHVILLE — Two years ago, Eastern Brown’s seniors set a goal to hang a banner inside their gymnasium to commemorate a berth to a state semifinal before their careers had come to an end.
What started as a dream is now a reality.
On the biggest stage of their season to date, the Warriors (16-1-2) put together the game of a lifetime and pulled out a 3-2 victory over Fairbanks — claiming a Division III regional championship and their first-ever berth to a state semifinal.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Eastern Brown’s Bailey Dotson said with pure jubilation. “Ever since we started high school, we always said that we wanted to hang a final four banner in both basketball and soccer. I’ve played with these girls since we were in kindergarten and we’ve worked hard for this. So to see it all finally pay off is amazing.”
Fairbanks applied pressure early and struck first with a goal at the 27:55 mark. But that lead didn’t last long.
Just five minutes later, Rylee Leonard outraced the Panthers’ back line, crossed into the box and found Dotson, who connected with the back of the net off the perfect assist to tie the game at 1-1 — a score that stood at halftime.
“I have a bad habit sometimes of staying back on defense because I get nervous about not getting defense,” Dotson said. “But once I saw Rylee with the ball, I knew what was about to happen and once I got it, I just sent it in.”
Just minutes into the second half, the Warriors struck again when Mary Litzinger took the touch, shot and curved the ball perfectly into the bottom right corner of the net for a 2-1 lead.
Fairbanks (14-7) showed its resiliency and answered off a corner kick when the ball bounced off multiple players before a final bounce sent the ball into the back of the net for a 2-2 tie.
“We hadn’t trailed throughout the tournament until the Wheelersburg game, and I think in previous years we would have put our heads down,” Litzinger said. “That ‘Burg game, though, I think finally gave us that belief that we can bounce back since we came back on them. We just had to remind ourselves that we had this and to keep going.”
Both teams then fought tooth and nail to make that final run for a potential go-ahead goal. And with 17:20, the Warriors got their chance.
Leonard drew a foul in the box to set up a penalty kick. Litzinger then toed the line and fired a shot into the top of the box for a goal, and ultimately, the game-winner.
“I was pretty nervous taking that penalty kick,” Litzinger said. “Usually the ones I take are pretty low on the ground, but that one went really high and I thought it was going to hit the crossbar. Luckily it didn’t though.”
Eastern Brown advances to a Division III state semifinal and will play Waynesville, who earned a 1-0 victory over Cincinnati Mariemont to move on. That contest will take place at 7 p.m., Tuesday at Chillicothe’s Herrnstein Field.
“I’m just so proud of these girls,” Eastern Brown coach Dan Silvis said. “I honestly don’t have any words at all to describe this moment and how proud I am. I didn’t make one sub all night, the same 11 who started played every minute and I am so happy for them.”