The backlines of Lexington Catholic and Sacred Heart were not giving an inch. Any balls that got deep were quickly sniped by defenders and the game felt like one that would be settled in extra time, if not penalty kicks.
Then, with just a few minutes left, Claire Fell got deep in the box and pressured LexCath keeper Olivia Williams just enough off a corner kick and was credited with a goal that tipped off Williams' hands in the 72nd minute.
That late score gave the Valkyries a 1-0 victory in the KHSAA state soccer championship on Saturday night at Paul Laurence Dunbar.
It was Sacred Heart's fifth state title in its ninth appearance. The Valkyries last won in 2009.
Pegged as the state's top team in the preseason, Sacred Heart maintained that look for most of the year as it dropped only two games to Kentucky competition (Owensboro Catholic and Assumption). It broke the state record for shutouts in the semifinals and finished with 22 on the year.
While Fell's goal was the difference-maker, Coach Jaclyn Puntillo felt good about her team's chances to pull it out after Fell chased LexCath star Kennedy Tranter 60 yards down the field to prevent a clean shot attempt several minutes before the game-winning goal.
"This is a history-making defense and they were awesome," Puntillo said of a senior-heavy backline, whose graduation will "make it very difficult to achieve" those heights again.
Puntillo said the Valkyries, after dropping a 2-1 game at Assumption, spent a great deal of time practicing defending direct balls over the top.
"For the last seven weeks ... we really spent some training sessions having our coaching staff serve long balls over the top and having our defenders and goalkeeper defend them," Puntillo said. " ... I think that really helped us tonight."
The finish was a bit of reversal of fortune for Lexington Catholic, which advanced from the previous round after capitalizing on a ball tipped by Owensboro Catholic's keeper in the waning minutes of that one.
Lexington Catholic and Sacred Heart met in Lexington to open their respective seasons. The Valkyries came away with a 3-0 win.
Knights Coach Terry Quigley said Sacred Heart controlled this contest as well as they did in the first meeting. While he'd like to see film of a Tranter shot in the 62nd minute that hit the crossbar — "It happened so fast I'm not sure that it wasn't in." — Quigley called the outcome "fair" regardless of whether the shot went in or not because of how well the Valkyries dictated play.
He heartily agreed when it was mentioned that his backline, which looked confused at times against Owensboro Catholic in Thursday's semifinals, went toe-to-toe with Sacred Heart's all night.
"Oh my God they did," Quigley said. "They held 'em out."
Williams came up with six saves for the Knights to highlight their defensive effort.
He knows they're disappointed in the outcome, but Quigley — who along with LexCath fell to 1-6 in finals appearances — said the Knights should be thrilled with the effort they gave this season to make it as far as they did.
"I'm so proud of these girls," Quigley said. "I had a wonderful time with them this year."
Sacred Heart 1, Lexington Catholic 0
KHSAA state tournament, girls' championship at Paul Laurence Dunbar
G—SH: Fell (72').
GK—SH: Stodghill. LC: Williams.
Records: Sacred Heart 22-4-1, Lexington Catholic 24-3-2.
All-tournament team: Nikki Wells, Corbin; Emily Moore, Rowan County; Maddie Griggs, Henderson County; Sarah Schuh, Notre Dame; Haley Nelson, Bethlehem; Jordan Cross, Bethlehem; Sarah Riney, Owensboro Catholic; Grace Wright, Owensboro Catholic; Alana Hughes, Lexington Catholic; Olivia Williams, Lexington Catholic; Kennedy Tranter, Lexington Catholic; Kiley Polk, Sacred Heart; Sarah Stodghill, Sacred Heart
MVP: Claire Fell, Sacred Heart