Three minutes. That’s all that separated Centreville’s girls’ soccer team from its first trip to the state tournament in seven years.
But Gary Malebranche didn’t want his players counting down the seconds or gazing at the scoreboard, even if both were working in their favor.
“Don’t pay attention to the clock,” Malebranche yelled from the sideline. “It’s wrong. Keep fighting.”
All throughout the postseason, the Wildcats coach has worked to turn his team’s attention away from the numbers, away from its losing record. Instead, he implored the Wildcats to focus on their ability to turn things around, one game at a time.
Tuesday marked the latest chapter of Centreville’s Cinderella story, as the Wildcats rallied from a halftime deficit to knock off Osbourn Park, 2-1, in the Virginia 6A North region semifinals in Manassas.
Both Centreville goals were scored by Ashley Andersen, who, after missing the first half of the season with an ankle injury, arguably exudes the most urgency to turn around the team’s past struggles.
“I hurt my ankle in the first scrimmage of the year and it got me down because I’m only a freshman and I was really looking forward to this year,” Andersen said. “I was so ready to get back and when I did, there were no butterflies or anything. It’s just soccer and it’s about playing the game right.”
For the Wildcats, that means a possession-based style requiring technique, skill and able bodies. The latter was hard to come by with five players battling ailments through the year, resulting in a 4-7 regular season mark.
Adversity arose again Tuesday just before halftime when Jasmine Warren scored on a 25-yard shot that put the Yellow Jackets ahead, 1-0.
Had the Wildcats not notched a quadruple-overtime win in the first round and a shootout victory in the quarterfinals, they might have panicked. But Centreville worked its way back behind aggressive defense that created opportunities on the other end, leading to Andersen’s rebound goal that tied the score in the 63rd minute.
Osbourn Park (13-5) had also put together several comeback wins, but the Yellow Jackets’ offense lost some potency when leading scorer Marissa Valenti went out in the second half after taking an elbow to the face.
With the Wildcats (8-8) continuing to push the tempo, Andersen again found herself in position to score after Jenna Green gathered a deflection and crossed a pass to the freshman, who netted the decisive goal in the 74th minute.
“From the beginning, we thought we had a good team; we just had to believe through all of the ups and downs,” Wildcats senior Baylee Gillmore said. “No matter what, we think the score is 0-0 and that there’s always a chance to make a play.”
● BATTLEFIELD 1, LAKE BRADDOCK 1 (Battlefield wins in PKs): In the other 6A North region girls’ soccer semifinal at Patriot in Nokesville, the Bobcats outlasted the Bruins in penalty kicks to secure their spot in Thursday’s region final and next week’s state tournament.