With just over a minute left in the fourth sudden-death overtime period of the day, Bishop Ireton junior midfielder Briana Lantuh let the ball fly.
It was a risky move, considering the circumstances. Possession of the ball had grown more valuable as the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I championship stretched into Sunday afternoon at Episcopal High School. Both the Cardinals and their opponent, St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes, were careful with decision-making. Giving the other team the ball on a turnover or a missed shot could be fatal. At this point in the game, whoever had the ball had the power to become a champion.
Lantuh saw an opening and took her chance, sending the ball hurtling toward the net. It sneaked by the goalkeeper and sent the Ireton bench streaming onto the field to celebrate an 8-7 victory and their second championship win of the season.
“We had to be smart about everything but I had girls clear out for me and I saw the opening,” Lantuh said. “So I just let it go.”
It’s the second year in a row that Ireton, who won its third straight WCAC championship earlier this month, has needed overtime to defeat the Saints for the VISAA title. Senior midfielder Madison Mote was the hero last year. This season it was Lantuh, a first-year Cardinal who transferred from St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes last summer.
Lantuh’s former team had its chances to grab the title. Down two goals with 1:15 left, the Saints mounted a furious comeback to send the game into overtime. Senior Christine Coulter scored her second goal of the game to bring it within one, and freshman Rita Peterson found the back of the net with one second left to tie the game.
In the early overtime periods, St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes controlled possession and got two clear looks at the net. But Ashley Bowan, Ireton’s freshman goalkeeper, was always there to keep the game alive.
“My team carries me all the time, every game. So I had to take any chance to carry them,” Bowan said.
Bowan injured her hand roughly a month ago and played through it, wearing a cast until last week. Her 14 saves, including four in overtime, gave the Cardinals chance after chance to run the perfect play.
“I kept thinking, ‘Let’s get a smart possession,’ ” Coach Rick Sofield said. “We didn’t get a smart possession until the fourth overtime, and when we did, we scored.”
Sunday’s win is the fourth VISAA title in the last five years for Ireton, and it was secured in part by two players who are new to Cardinals’ side of this storied matchup. Bowan, who lives in Maryland, said she knew nothing about the two teams’ history beside the fact that they “always play good games.”
On a good day, she said it takes her about 45 minutes to get to school. But on Sunday, after winning her first state championship, surrounded by teammates and their discarded gear, she didn’t feel far from home.
“This is what I drive every day to school for,” she said, looking around. “This is the day. Today is why I came here.”