Panthers win shootout
Sure, it might’ve been the fifth game of the season, and sure, it was during Franklin’s spring break. But Monday’s soccer game had a late-season feel where the stakes were high. Franklin and North Henderson played to a 1-1 tie after 80 minutes in regulation, and neither team could score in the two 10-minute overtime periods. A couple years ago the game would’ve ended in a tie, but the NCHSAA adopted to allow conferences to engage in shootouts during the regular season to determine winners. The tension was high during the shootout, with Franklin having the advantage of going second. After North Henderson’s fifth and final kick sailed over the net, Franklin didn’t have to shoot again and won the shootout 4-3. The Panthers formed a huddle and celebrated on the field immediately after the final kick. After losing twice on PKs in 2015, including the 2-A West Regional championship game to Forbush, FHS delivered in the clutch. “It was like, OK there’s a change in the tide, we can do this,” coach Rita Esterwood said. “It was really nice.” Esterwood determined which five players she wanted to take the penalty kicks as well as the order. The thought first popped into her head before the start of overtime. “It looked like both teams were hanging on pretty tight,” she said. “I had a list in my head but I didn’t want to lose my focus too much.” The order Esterwood chose: Emilee Lane, Kati Reddoch, Alyviah Holland, Gracie Hornsby and Cassidy Zemmin. Players from both teams alternate shots, with Franklin going second because it was at home. Players selected for the shootout stand near midfield, while the rest of the team stays at their respective benches. North Henderson took a 1-0 lead despite Zemmin partially touching the ball. Lane found the bottom left corner after North Henderson’s keeper also partially touched the ball. Zemmin blocked the next shot, and Reddoch’s shot found the left side of the net to give Franklin a 2-1 advantage. North tied it, but Holland fooled the keeper by going high on the right side to put FHS up 3-2. The Knights tied it again, but Hornsby netted a shot on the lower right side. With both teams down to their final attempt and Franklin up 4-3, North Henderson’s kicker sailed one over the goal. Zemmin ran to meet her teammates and enjoy the victory. This was Franklin’s first penalty kick shootout at the Macon Middle School soccer field. The boys haven’t had a WNC Athletic Conference game go into a shootout in the two years since the rule was adopted by the NCHSAA in 2014. Before that, shootouts were only held in state playoff games. FHS lost shootouts 4-3 and 4-2 last year. The latter score came against Forbush. Esterwood doesn’t tell the players specifically where to aim the PK attempts. “We tell them that when they get up there to shoot, go where you normally practice it,” she said. “We typically practice PKs quite a bit. So stick with what you know.” Zemmin would’ve been the final player to kick against the Knights. But just like what happened against Forbush, it was already decided before her turn arrived. Esterwood said Zemmin was pretty nervous about having to kick, but she avoided it by blocking a shot and forcing an errant attempt. Assistant coach Steve Davis, who oversees the goalkeepers, was in Kansas visiting his mother. Esterwood said Zemmin stepped up despite being without her position coach to help guide her before the shootout. “Usually with keepers they say you just have to block one, get your hands on one of five,” Esterwood said. “She did what you’re supposed to do.” North Henderson broke a scoreless tie a little over a minute into the second half. However, just like they would display later in the shootout, the Panthers weren’t fazed. Freshman Hailey Riddle scored her first varsity goal on an assist from sophomore Lety Contreras. Contreras plays the fullback position, and Esterwood said she’s tried for years to get players in that defensive spot to be more offensive-minded. The win keeps Franklin (4-1, 4-0) tied with Tuscola for first place in the WNCAC standings; North Henderson (3-4, 2-2) is tied for third. The victory also avenges the only home loss the Panthers suffered last year. They went 10-1 at the MMS field, with a 1-0 setback to the Knights being the only blemish. FHS traveled to Wilmington to enjoy the victory and the rest of its spring break. The Panthers practiced on a rugby field for two hours on Wednesday, and had plans on doing the same Thursday. Two games are on tap for next week: Monday at East Henderson and Wednesday against Carolina Day. Both will be varsity-only encounters starting at 5 p.m.