Eighty minutes of regulation play wasn’t enough to determine a winner in Saturday night’s contest between the Gainesville girls and visiting Carrollton.
Neither were the two five-minute overtime periods or six rounds of penalty kicks.
Gainesville’s Laramy Head made sure the seventh round of PKs was all that was needed to send the Lady Red Elephants to the Class AAA semifinals.
The diminutive sophomore blasted her penalty kick over the outstretched hands of the leaping Carrollton goalkeeper, lifting the Lady Red Elephants to a 2-1 quarterfinals win in a game fraught with tension from the outset.
Sixth-ranked Gainesville (16-3-2), the Region 8-AAA champion, will advance to the semifinals and host third-ranked Allatoona (18-2-1) on Wednesday.
“We probably practice penalty kicks more than any team in the state,” Gainesville coach Mark Wade said, “because we know that our games are going to be low-scoring. It paid off tonight.”
After a regulation packed with near-misses and close calls ended in a 1-1 tie and the two overtime periods passed scoreless, Gainesville and Carrollton each made four of five penalty kicks, sending the game into sudden death penalty kicks.
After Emily Adams found the net for Carrollton in the sixth round and Sidney Morrow matched for Gainesville, Head and the Lady Red Elephants got their opportunity when Carrollton sophomore Ashley Adams narrowly missed in the seventh round.
Head then calmly, slowly, made the long walk from midfield to take her place over the ball. Just as assuredly, she blasted the deciding goal into the back of the net.
“I wasn’t really in a hurry,” Head said. “I didn’t look at the keeper, and I just kicked it.”
Seconds later she was swarmed by her teammates in a wild on-field celebration.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve never even made it this far in basketball, the sport that I love, the sport that I’m going to college for,” said senior goalkeeper Rebecca Webster, who before this season last played varsity soccer as a freshman. “(Senior midfielder) Liza (Carpenter) is my best friend and she kind of talked me into coming for senior year — you know, why not? — and we’ve had a great run. Our goal was region and now we’ve gotten this far.
“I’m just on cloud nine right now.”
Webster played a big role in helping the team advance Saturday.
The Lady Trojans were the aggressor most of the game and peppered the Gainesville goal with 27 shots, 12 of which required a Webster save. Most notable among them was a diving one-handed stab after the backside of the goal was left exposed for a few breath-taking moments.
“I feel like we’re one of the strongest defensive teams in the state, and we showed up,” Wade said. “(Carrollton) had plenty of chances, but Rebecca Webster made some great saves for us, the girls in the back were awesome, and we did just enough.”
While the Lady Trojans were on the attack throughout, Gainesville made the most of its scant scoring opportunities, taking a 1-0 lead on a Carpenter penalty kick with 26 minutes left in the first half after junior striker Hartley Carter was fouled near the goal.
Before and after that goal, the game was played almost exclusively on Gainesville’s half of the field. Kate Fazio and Morgan McDonald led a Lady Trojan attack that attempted 20 shots before Anna Caitlyn Camp finally equalized the score with 13:30 remaining in the game.
But, led by strong performance from Catherine Chambers and Sidney Morrow, the Gainesville defense otherwise withstood the onslaught. In the second half, Carpenter, who had helmed the Lady Red Elephant attack from her midfield position in the first half, also dropped back to provide extra defensive support.
“They’re a great team,” Wade said of Carrollton, “and we knew we would be defending for most of the night. We knew that coming in, but that’s our style. I believe you coach to your strengths and not your weaknesses, and our strength is in the back.”
Gainesville, which lost to Carrollton, 2-1, in the regular season, was playing in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2005.