Solanco's Graci Unger considered neither the ramifications nor the pressure when she stepped to the penalty kick spot with a chance to send her team to the district semifinals.
However, the Mules' sophomore striker did formulate a plan of action prior to the 80 minutes of regulation time plus two 15-minute overtime periods.
"At the beginning of the game, I picked exactly where I wanted to go," Unger said. "I didn't even know if we would be in PKs or even if I would take one. But early in the game, I chose my spot and thought, "I'm going here no matter what'."
Unger never wavered and her shot into the lower left corner of the net clinched 16th-seeded Solanco's victory over ninth-seeded Fleetwood Thursday night, October 24. The final score is 0-0 with the Mules advancing by winning the penalty kick shootout, 4-2.
The Mules will play at Manheim Central Monday night at 7 in the district semifinals. Conrad Weiser and Mechanicsburg meet in the other semifinal. The two semifinals winners are guaranteed a berth in the state tournament and will play in the district title game Thursday, October 31, at Hersheypark Stadium at 5:30 p.m. The losers play in the third place game Saturday, November 2. The winner of the consolation game also qualifies for the PIAA tournament.
"It's amazing. It's unbelievable," said junior midfielder Kayden Bedwell, who converted in the penalty kick shootout. "I can't believe we've made it this far. I am so proud of these ladies."
Seniors Gabi Dolan and Alana Yoder also scored in the shootout. Yoder, normally a midfielder, moved to left back in the second half and helped Solanco stymie the Tigers. Dolan did everything except take tickets at the gate. In addition to the shootout score, the Mules goalie had a sensational game and stopped two Fleetwood penalty kicks in the shootout. Dolan made several spectacular saves in regulation and the two 15-minute overtime periods.
"Oh my gosh," Solanco coach Ken Yoder said. "The save in overtime was just unbelievable. Gabi has been a constant for us the past four years but you can just tell she doesn't want this to be over. It's her and Alana's senior year. They don't want it to be over. We threw Alana back there when we lost Rilyn Saner [to an injury]. Alana, playing outside back, to step up like that, is unbelievable. These seniors don't want their season to end. It's pretty special."
Solanco has not conceded a goal in its last three games, all of which the Mules needed to win to keep their season alive.
"It's just unbelievable," Ken Yoder said. "I keep saying that. These girls continue to rise to the occasion. It's crazy. You can literally see them maturing and growing and coming together, especially that back line. At the beginning of the season, I never would've dreamed that. It's the first time we've run this formation, the flat-back four. I felt like we had the personnel to do it but they were new to it. We had done a sweeper-stopper system previously. They're just evolving and growing right before our eyes. It just blows my mind."
The memorable, milestone Mules win began with a forgettable first half. Solanco's best scoring chance came in the opening 30 seconds when Bedwell made a nice run down the right side of the field and crossed the ball into the middle of the penalty area. Alana Yoder was able fight through the crowd to get a shot off, but it whistled wide.
With 13 minutes left in the half, Dolan jumped to parry a Fleetwood free kick over the crossbar.
The second half was a far different story. Solanco created several solid scoring opportunities. Bedwell had a shot saved with 23:36 to go. Eight minutes later, the Mules had two chances but could not finish.
"We just woke up," said Bedwell. "It takes us a little while to get into the game and get comfortable. We finally just woke up and realized we need to win this game to continue. We want to continue making history."
With six minutes remaining in regulation, Dolan punched away a Fleetwood blast. Dolan made a similar save in the extra session.
Neither team was able to score in two 15-minute overtime periods so it came down to a penalty kick shootout. Both teams select five players to take a penalty kick with the squad that scores the most total goals in those five rounds winning the game. "You hate to see it decided in penalty kicks," said Ken Yoder. "It's nerve-racking and it's tough for the kids."
It may have been tough for the Mules, but they appeared impervious to the pressure. The day before, Solanco prepared for this situation.
"We do some fun penalty kick stuff all year, just have contests through the team," said Ken Yoder. "So I kind of knew some girls that I felt could step up and handle the pressure. [The day before the game] I had them standing at midfield and walking up [to the penalty spot] with the ball in their hand and putting it on the spot. That long, lonely walk you take when you take penalty kicks. We actually went through that whole scenario and it paid off."
Solanco started each round and Dolan got the call first. It may be a bit unorthodox for some teams to have a goalie participate in the shootout, but Dolan was comfortable with the prospect.
"I usually take kicks for my [club] team and I'm pretty confident with them because I practice them a lot," said Dolan. "I'm happy to take them."
Dolan coolly converted and Fleetwood also made its first attempt. Alana Yoder scored and the Tigers responded again to tie it 2-2.
Bedwell was up next. "It's really stressful," she said. "I found that what helps me is to close my eyes and just imagine the ball going into the net. Thankfully, it worked out pretty well. I just did what I do in practice. I lucked out with it, thankfully." The naturally right-footed player used her left foot to place a shot into the left corner of the net. "I don't trust my right foot because I have too much power with it," Bedwell said.
After Dolan moved to her right to make a save in the bottom of round three, Solanco was in the driver's seat, ahead 3-2. The Mules hit the post in round four but Dolan came up with another stop similar to the one moments earlier.
"It's just guessing," said Dolan. "I try to get in their heads a little bit by moving around, make them second guess where they're shooting. But I just guessed right on the last couple. Thankfully, it worked out."
Unger stepped to the spot with an opportunity to win it. She said she didn't think about the pressure or the fact she could extend the Mules' magical season.
"I don't really feel anything until like a day or two afterwards when I finally realize what just happened," Unger said. "I'll be taking a penalty kick and think, 'I was just doing it at practice.' It will finally catch up to me after a while and I'll be like, 'That really just happened?'"
Unger's goal set off another Siolanco celebration. "I just turned around and saw everybody running on to the field," she said. "That was kind of exciting."
Solanco (14-4-2) is unbeaten in its last 11 games, going 9-0-2 in that span, including a pair of wins in its first foray in the district tournament.
"You can't even believe it," said Dolan. "It's just so amazing. I have no words. It's just awesome."