Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Parkviews Cherrelle Jarrett (5) collides with Brookwoods Ashley Gray as they battle for control of the ball on Tuesday.
SNELLVILLE Many of Parkview's girls soccer players had been there before, under the most intense circumstances.
Asha Wright hadn't.
The junior goalkeeper watched last year's Class AAAAA state finals as a reserve, witnessing a thrilling 9-8 win on penalty kicks. She was more in the forefront against rival Brookwood on Tuesday night and her huge save on the fourth round of PKs boosted the second-ranked Panthers to a 2-1 win (4-2 on PKs) over the No. 3 Broncos.
"I knew I could get it," said Wright, who didn't enter the game until the 66th minute, when starting goalie Marjorie Hammond left with a nasty cut over her eye. "I was just thinking, I have to do that for my team."
Wright's save kept Parkview's 3-2 edge on PKs, allowing teammate Maureen Buff the chance to finish off the Broncos in the fifth round of kicks. She converted the shot, which kept Buff and her fellow seniors unbeaten against their chief rival.
It also stopped a nine-game Brookwood winning streak on an emotional night for the home team. The Broncos mourned popular junior athlete Amanda Riley, who lost a long battle with cancer Friday, at a Tuesday funeral. Then they donned black armbands and pink hair ribbons for their biggest soccer game of the season against the three-time defending state champions.
Parkview (13-1-1, 6-0 in Region 8-AAAAA) jumped up early on a Kim Spence goal, but Brookwood bounced back with an Anna Sammons header in the 64th minute that eventually forced overtime.
"Hats off to Brookwood," Parkview girls coach Judson Hamby said. "They gave us a 100 percent battle all night. I thought the first 20 minutes we had the run of play, but I felt like they kind of dominated possession after that. They came at us. And I applaud our back line. That's the best they've played this year."
And once it went to PKs, the Panthers felt pretty confident.
They have been remarkably effective converting free kicks in the past, including a perfect night in a 6-5 PK win over Grayson earlier this season. Not to mention last year's state finals, when they made all nine attempts.
"We've felt the ultimate pressure (in last year's state finals), so we were ready for this," Buff said.
Cherrelle Jarrett, Kiki Nelson and Elena Karakizis made three straight to open the PK round, but Brookwood missed its first kick before Tayler Graves and Allie Vrtachnik made their shots.
But the Panthers missed their fourth-round kick high the first PK miss in a game that Hamby can remember his team misfiring on and gave the hosts a little life.
That's when Wright dove to her left and stuffed a Bronco PK. Tall and athletic, she is the Panthers' usual goalie on PKs, like she was earlier this year when she made the deciding save against Grayson. That wasn't state championship pressure, but at least Wright had some crunch-time experience.
"I can't say enough about Asha Wright, to come in there like she did (after Hammonds injury)," Hamby said. "That was huge for her."
Buff then went to the right with the clinching PK, hitting the open net and backpedaling timidly before being tackled by her charging teammates. It was a raucous celebration for the Panthers, who have lost to the Broncos just once in their last 11 matchups.
"What a great win for our seniors," Hamby said.
Spence is in that group and the Auburn signee delivered another key goal against Brookwood in the first half. She got free behind the Bronco defense and just got enough on a shot as she collided with charging keeper Kristin Rivers for a goal in the 24th minute.
Parkview nearly made it 2-0 midway through the second half thanks to some Brookwood misplays on defense, but goalie Taylor Strickland made three big saves in a 25-second span to keep that margin at a goal.
The hosts used that momentum to score off a corner kick as Vrtachnik hit a nice ball to the back post, where Sammons finished with a header. Brookwood had a 5-3 edge in second-half shots on goal, as well as a 4-2 advantage on corner kicks, but the result went to Parkview, which can wrap up the 8-AAAAA title with one win in its final two games.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are headed to the state playoffs, but as a No. 2 seed.
"We played with a lot of heart," Brookwood girls coach Sarah Crawford said. "We talked a lot about playing as a team and we did that. We were trying to pull one out for our seniors and unfortunately it didn't go our way."