George Mason 3,
Clarke County 1
Any hesitant moments for the George Mason girls' soccer team vanished early in the second half of the Virginia A championship game Saturday afternoon against Clarke County.
Senior midfielder Alison Penland's impressive goal -- a 30-yard rocket into the upper right corner of the net in the 44th minute -- jump-started the Mustangs on their way to a 3-1 victory over the Eagles at Radford University.
"As soon as Alison made that shot, we all got our confidence," the Mustangs' sophomore goalkeeper Alex Pender said. "We knew we could win it."
Penland scored a second goal off a corner kick by junior Christina Kirkbride to break the 1-1 tie in the 65th minute, and freshman Katie Turner sealed the win with a 15-yarder in the 78th minute.
The Mustangs (10-5-1) won their second title in the three-year history of the Virginia A girls' tournament. George Mason lost to Brentsville in the state final last year.
Penland, who will play for the University of Tampa next year, described her first goal as "a Hail Mary." But she had a good, open look at the goal after calmly maneuvering the ball up the field, and her shot was perfectly placed.
"With our team, I think that once we get that ball in the back of the net, we really know we can do it," Penland said. "I wanted to get our team back into it."
The Bull Run District rivals met for a fifth and final time this year. Clarke County (14-2) dominated earlier in the season, winning both regular season matchups against George Mason as well as the district tournament final. George Mason earned a 4-3 victory over Clarke County in the Region B final, and the Mustangs handed the Eagles their only other loss again Saturday.
"I think these are evenly matched teams," Clarke County Coach Laurie Harrell said. "We won three times, they won twice. . . . This time, they found the right spots at the right time."
Clarke County had the edge in scoring opportunities in the first half, and it took the lead in the 35th minute on a goal by Keely McCall. But in the second half, sparked by Penland's shot, the Mustangs unleashed a barrage of 18 shots to take control of the game.
Still, with George Mason leading 2-1 in the 74th minute, the Eagles had one great scoring chance that Pender fended off.
Clarke County freshman Leslie Hardesty fought her way through the defense for an open look at the goal from about five yards away, but Pender stopped the ball, then dove for the rebound. Finally the ball trickled away to Penland, who booted it away to safety.
"Alex made some big saves at crucial times," George Mason Coach Clifford Carroll said. "That was important for our team."