By Colin Bado, TSB Staff
LUCAS – McKinney North fans nervously left their seats Thursday night. They lined up along the side railing to watch a Class 4A playoff shootout that would decide the Lady Bulldogs’ Sectional round match against the Frisco Liberty Redhawks at Lovejoy High School.
Anxieties overwhelmed parents as they covered their mouths and struggled to keep their eyes on the pitch. The match had been tied 2-2 at the end of regulation. The students were persistent in their cheers throughout the duration of the game, but even they were reduced to silence due to the severity of the situation.
In the end, North would fall on the short end of this dramatic moment, falling 4-3 in the shooout and failing to qualify for the regional quarterfinals. But it was a fight to the finish.
Each team chose five players to engage in a nerve-wracking shootout that would end one of their seasons. As the away team, North went first, electing Mikey Mendiola. She would score, but Liberty would quickly answer with a goal of its own. Unfortunately, Belicia Mendiola was denied by Liberty keeper Hailey Walstad, and the Redhawks went up 2-1.
Hadlie Tucker made her shot, but again Liberty responded, making the score 3-2. North keeper Clarissa Ledesma was the fourth shooter, but her goal was discounted due to her “stutter-step-fake,” which is illegal in a penalty kick.
Ledesma responded to her slip-up by making an astounding save to keep North in the game. With a bit of momentum back on their side, Lady Bulldogs’ Sadie Decker came up in the clutch and scored her goal, bringing the match down to the last shooter.
Despite an incredible effort, Ledesma dove to block Cameron Hickox’s shot but was unable to make the final save. The Redhawks left their bench and screamed in amazement, while the Lady Bulldogs walked solemnly to the goal to be with their keeper, Ledesma, after coming up just short of advancing to the Regional Quarterfinal round.
North finished its season 18-2-3 overall. The Lady Bulldogs won the District 17-4A championship and finished as Area champions.
“I thought we were the better team, but hats off to Liberty,” said North head coach Lance Lovell. “They played tough and smart. Liberty was able to execute on their opportunities.”
Thursday night was the first time the Lady Bulldogs had allowed two goals by the opposition since their Jan. 29 match versus McKinney High. Both goals came within the initial six minutes of the match.
“Clarissa played well tonight, but we’ve only been scored on 11 times this entire year,” said Lovell. “Giving up two goals tonight is disappointing. It’s unheard of.”
In the sixth minute, Liberty midfielder Cameron Stoker crossed the ball into the six-yard box finding teammate Chandler Mason. With little resistance in the box, Mason got a clear shot off at the goal, easily beating Ledesma.
“We started slow and we weren’t focused in the beginning,” said Lovell. “I tried to motivate the girls during warm-ups, but we were flat. We came back and picked it up.”
North’s stagnant disposition resonated into the crowd. In the 22nd minute, North forward, Mendiola started a spark, fighting her way deep into the Liberty defense. Her efforts resulted in a corner for the Lady Bulldogs. Mikey Mendiola elected to take the kick and struck it firmly into the box. Liberty struggled to clear the ball out of their 18-yard box. Tucker controlled the rebound and took a quick shot over the Liberty defense. Liberty keeper Walstad dove for the ball but to no avail, as Tucker’s precision shot tied the game at 1-1.
Within the next 10 minutes, the North girls fed up their newfound momentum and continued their offensive pursuit. Mendiola would fire a rocket at the net in the 35th minute, but placed the ball just over the net.
The second half didn’t start off well for the Lady Bulldogs, as Liberty struck first after the North defense was unable to clear a loose ball in the box. For the second straight half, the Lady Bulldogs would be forced to mount a comeback versus a stifling Redhawks defense.
The Lady Bulldogs overcame adversity and in the 56th minute, North forward Sandy Pachicano played a through ball to Belicia Mendiola. Liberty pleaded for an offside call, as Mendiola continued her path toward the goal. Walstad hesitated to leave her net and approached her apprehensively. Mendiola struck the ball cleanly and tied the game up at two.
After the 80-minute regulation time expired with a 2-2 tie, the two teams played two 10-minute overtime periods in which the score remained tie.
Photos courtesy of Kellie Anfosso.