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Billings Central goes to OT to take girls soccer title

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| November 2, 2009 11:00 PM

Through a postgame wave of tears, hugs and words of encouragement, the Libby High School girls soccer team tried to work through the realization that Billings Central had captured its second straight Class A state championship.

Libby held the lead through 49 minutes of action and never trailed at all during regulation. But the visiting Rams seemed to be a team of destiny – surviving a harrowing journey to Libby that included broken down buses and a hospitalized teammate – to take the victory in overtime, 4-2.

Coach Matt Warner had difficulty finding the words to describe the feeling of coming up short against the powerful Rams.

“The girls played really hard,” he said. “It’s tough to say anything.”

Libby spoke loudly on the field over the game’s opening 20 minutes. With a steady rainfall making a slippery field even more trecherous, the Lady Loggers found the net in the 15th minute when senior Anna Valentine lined up for a direct kick. From about 30 yards out, Valentine placed the ball perfectly into the upper part of the net over the outstretched hands of Rams goalkeeper Austin Hanser.

“That’s not the first time she’s done that,” Warner said of Valentine’s incredible accuracy on such attempts.

It was only the second goal Billings Central had allowed all season – the only other one coming in a match against another Northwestern A team in Bigfork.

Libby had other opportunities before Valentine’s goal. In just the game’s second minute, junior Jaime Gilden just missed on a header on a corner kick from Valentine. The ball bounced high over the net. Moments later, Valentine took a hard shot that Hanser stopped on a dive to her left.

Billings Central was denied in the ninth minute when senior Kaila Forster cleared on a corner kick opportunity for the Rams. Kenda Laber missed wide right less than a minute later and Jackie Elliott couldn’t find the net on a direct kick.

Moments after Elliott’s miss, the Loggers came right back to get the direct kick opportunity for Valentine. After scoring the goal, the two teams battled evenly through the rest of the half.

“In the first half, they started giving away the middle of the field and it hurt today,” Warner said.

With less than two minutes remaining in the half, Gilden had a good opportunity but couldn’t finish. On the other end in the final seconds, LHS goalkeeper Audra Poppen came out to deny Elliott on a 1-on-1 break. The two players hit each other but Poppen came up with the ball.

The Lady Rams came through two minutes into the second half on a goal by Camp. But Libby answered quickly with a goal by senior Chrissy Vennes. Valentine set her up with Vennes scoring into the right side of the net just one minute after the Rams goal.

“We’ve practiced that a lot and she was right where she needed to be,” Warner said.

Libby maintained a 2-1 lead for several more minutes until Central broke through in the 65th minute. Miranda Rabold sent a direct kick screaming into the middle and teammate Ryanne Frazier directed it into the net to tie the game, 2-2.

Over the remaining minutes of regulation, Libby had a couple of chances but just couldn’t finish. With 11:33 on the clock, Gilden found Valentine on an attempt that went into the keeper’s hands. Seconds later, Libby avoided disaster when Poppen stopped a shot attempt from Elliott.

Poppen also stopped a Ram offensive in the 74th minute when she got in the way of Taylor O’Toole, who was set up with a pass from Holly Davison. Poppen got to the ball in time to keep the tie intact.

Gilden got off a shot attempt seconds later on the other end. Shooting from right to left, Gilden’s shot missed only inches to the left.

With about four minutes left, Gilden got off a shot on a feed by Valentine but the keeper was in the right place for the catch. In the final two minutes, each team had corner kick opportunities. On Libby’s try, Gilden got her head on the ball but it missed to the right. Then on Central’s attempt, Gilden cleared to send the game into overtime.

Central scored 3 1/2 minutes into the first OT on a shot by Elliott. Slick conditions appeared to be a factor as the ball made it past a diving Poppen. In the second overtime, the Loggers had a couple of corner kicks and a few other opportunities but couldn’t come through.

The Rams wrapped up the win in the 98th minute on a header into the net by Davison.

“They went out and showed that they could do it,” Warner said. “It was a tough game of soccer. I think the ball bounced the wrong way a few times and that was going to happen one way or the other.”

Central finishes the season with a perfect 14-0 record while the Loggers end at 13-1. It was the second straight year that Libby had lost to the Rams in overtime during the playoffs.

Chelsea Ahart, junior, left the game in the late going. Warner said Ahart, who suffers from asthma, was having trouble breathing and taken to the hospital.

For Libby, fans bid farewell to eight seniors – Valentine, Poppen, Forster, Vennes, LaRona Luscher, Lindsey Kehn, Jess Shaw and Ashley VanHoose – who did not play when sidelined before the Hamilton game.

“Many of those girls have played soccer together for years,” Warner said. “You could tell the way they play together.”