CORINTH — Samantha Brownell would be the first to admit that taking penalty kicks makes her apprehensive.
Then again, what high school soccer player wouldn’t have such a feeling standing 12 yards from the goal facing a one-on-one confrontation with a ‘keeper and a regional championship at stake?
With the sun setting behind the tall pine trees behind the Central High field, the senior goalkeeper provided legions of Red Devils fans with a championship to celebrate. Brownell scored to cap the second set of penalty kicks and give Central a 4-3 win over Orono Wednesday and the school’s first Eastern Maine Class C championship.
Even though the Red Devils had been practicing penalty kicks all week, Brownell never anticipated she would be the final shooter of five in the second round of kicks in a sequence that was deadlocked at 2.
“I was hoping that I didn’t have to take it,” Brownell said with a sheepish grin. “But I did, so I guess (coach Mike McHugh) made the right choice in having me go last.”
Brownell’s boot sent 16-0-1 Central into Saturday’s state championship game at Hampden Academy, while Orono finished the season 13-4-1.
Even though Central was up 3-0 at halftime, thanks to a pair of goals from Brianna Speed and another from Taylor Robichaud, this was the Red Devils’ first time in such a game. The Red Riots were appearing for the fourth consecutive year, so the inevitable Orono run was forthcoming, while Central appeared content with its lead.
“That’s why the second half we let off so bad, because I think we got cocky, and that’s something we can’t do,” said junior striker Max McHugh, the coach’s daughter.
The Riots finally got on the board with 23:27 left in regulation, with Hanna Renedo knocking home a loose ball following an Analies Ross-Dyjak corner kick, and a similar sequence led to a goal by Caleigh Paul just three minutes later.
Orono completed its comeback with 10:36 remaining in regulation, with Ross-Dyjak slamming in a direct kick after a foul was called.
Coach McHugh protested the call after the goal and subsequently received a yellow card, but that restored the Red Devils’ fire.
“He kind of brought up our intensity,” said Max McHugh. “We knew that was a bad call and we knew we should win this game. We just had to refocus.”
Both teams had gleaming chances at the end of regulation and in both overtimes, but nobody could find the back of the net, and the game went to penalty kicks.
In the opening round, both teams converted their first three attempts, but Central took a 4-3 lead after Orono’s Caleigh Paul’s sent one over the crossbar and Central’s Sigilia Pinkham subsequently converted her kick.
But the Riots’ Laura Triandafillou made her shot to tie it up in the fifth and final round and Orono ‘keeper Taylor Gray stopped Remay Burke’s attempt, forcing a second set.
Both goalkeepers stood their ground in the second set, which was tied at 1 when Robichaud, Central’s fourth shooter, converted.
Theresa Huelk, Orono’s final shooter, tied it again, but that set the stage for Brownell, who played outstanding in stopping 14 shots in regulation and two more in the second round of PKs.
“We’ve never done this in school history before, so this was what we wanted,” said Brownell.
With Central sitting on its lead in the second half, the Riots pushed their attack up, and coach Cid Dyjak’s club won virtually every 50-50 ball while Orono’s attackers had plenty of space with the ball.
“I’m very proud of my kids for a great comeback and a great season,” said Dyjak. “We knew where we could score, so we said we’re going to try to get one goal at a time and that’s what we did.”
Ross-Dyjak, Cid’s daughter, created multiple scoring chances deep in Central’s defensive end with her corner kicks, but Brownell and her defenders did just enough.
“I didn’t want them to score anymore after three. I just did everything I could to keep it that way,” said Brownell.
“God bless her, god bless her. Thank God we have her,” echoed Max McHugh.
Gray had five saves on 11 shots for Orono, while Brownell finished with 14 on 29 for Central.