NORMAN — Norman High kept trying to spring scoring leaders Asha Haile and Gracie Koonce. McGuinness kept trying to get the ball behind the Lady Tigers to its talented front line. Both teams kept holding their own defensively.
And the scoreboard kept showing zeroes — for 40, then 50, then 60, even 70 minutes. Finally, though, the Lady Irish broke through, scoring nine minutes from the finish and holding on for a 1-0 victory in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs.
It was a tough pill to swallow, but NHS coach Tyler Hardage had few complaints in defeat.
“The girls worked incredibly hard, they just kept battling,” Hardage said of this game, which just as easily could describe their whole season in fighting back from an 0-7 start. “I’m proud of everything they did. On that goal, I don’t know what I’d tell them to do differently.”
Indeed, it took a near-perfect play from McGuinness’ Katie McNeill, lofting a crossing pass from Tiger goalkeeper Hannah Mohr’s left, just over her outstretched arms and to the head of Rachel Jordan for a point-blank header in the goal mouth.
True to their form they showed in the second half of the season, the Tigers fought the last few minutes and nearly capitalized on a wild play with a minute to go. Alexis Sanders’ centering pass came dangerously in front of the goal and a McGuinness defender’s misguided clearing attempt went straight on goal — but fortunately for the Lady Irish, straight into the gut of goalkeeper Hannah Frogge.
The Lady Irish had several good chances in the second half, but Mohr was aggressive off her line on a night she made eight saves.
Haile, entering with a team-high eight goals, was targeted all night by the Irish’ back line. She and Koonce kept working and gave NHS their best chance late in the first half on a give-and-go that saw Koonce’s low drive deflected wide on a diving stop by Frogge.