For the second time in her Polk County career, Addie Lynch ended a state playoff game in tears and buried in a mob of teammates.
Gladly. So gladly.
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With time nearly ticked away in the first of two sudden death overtime periods, Lynch made a last-second opportunity pay off, scoring with 12 seconds left in the overtime period to lift Polk County to a 3-2 win over Stuart Cramer in the opening round of the state 2A playoffs at G.M. Tennant Stadium.
Cue the tears. Cue the teammates rushing onto the field. It felt much like Polk County’s 3-2 win over West Stokes two years ago in which Lynch hit a penalty kick to win a second-round match.
The senior wasn’t sure how to compare Wednesday’s game-winner to that moment.
“It’s up there,” she said.
After an intense 104 minutes-plus of regulation and overtime, Polk County, who will next travel to Parkwood on Saturday for a 7 p.m. second-round match, found a way to quickly flip the field and set up Lynch for her heroics.
With Cramer pushing to score late in the first five-minute sudden death period, the Wolverine defense blunted a Storm attack and cleared the ball out of its end to Reese Alley, who turned upfield and launched a long, high pass ahead of Lynch. That set up a footrace between the Polk senior and a Cramer defender.
Straining to pull ahead with every step, Lynch reached the bouncing ball first, bumping it first with her chest, then her right foot to gain control. As Cramer goalkeeper Logan Pace moved off her line to affect the shooting angle, Lynch launched a left-footed drive that just cleared Pace’s outstretched foot and rolled inside the right post.
“I knew I didn’t have time to control the ball,” Lynch said. “I ran as fast as I could, chested the ball down, looked up to see where the goalkeeper was and kicked it as hard as I could.
“When I saw it go in I was flooded with emotions. I started to cry. All my teammates came and hugged me. It was a really good moment. That’s a good memory to have at the end of my high school career.”
Cramer may have entered with a 12-8 record, but six of its eight losses came to 3A and 4A schools, with the other two to conference rival Lake Norman Charter, considered a state title contender. It wasn’t your normal 22nd seed in the West that stepped onto W.J. Miller Field.
Yet Polk County more than held its own throughout the warm evening. The Wolverines grabbed a 1-0 lead late in the first half as Ava Marino fought through a scramble in front of the Cramer net and tapped in a goal just ahead of a Cramer defender.
Polk County just missed a second goal two minutes later, and the Storm took advantage of the respite to even the game. Standout sophomore Zoe Bourque got possession of the ball with open space deep in the Wolverines’ half of the field, dribbled past one defender and unleashed a low line drive into the net to even the score at 1-1 with 3:19 left in the half.
Polk County has a pretty good sophomore of its own in Reese Alley, and she and freshman Mireya Roman teamed on a beautiful give-and-go early in the second half to return the lead to the Wolverines. Alley sent a pass down the right side of the field to Roman, who returned the ball with a perfect lead pass into the center of the field to Alley. The sophomore dribbled into the penalty area and hammered home a shot to give Polk a 2-1 edge.
Polk goalkeeper Malena Roman made a one-handed punch save of a Cramer free kick from just outside the penalty area a few moments later, and the Wolverines made their one-goal lead last until 13:57 remained, when Cramer scored on a play similar to Lynch’s game-winner. Brittany Postell won a footrace to a long free ball and poked it past Roman to even the match and, eventually, force overtime.
“The only real disappointment is that we gave up too many opportunities in the back,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “We talked about the fact that they had speed up top and wanted to play the ball in behind the defense. I thought we did a better job with our coverage on defense otherwise.
“I felt like we were able to weather their storm better than they weathered our pressure. When we were up 2-1, we had three or so really good chances that could have made a huge difference. I thought we pushed hard and competed well and gave good effort today. One thing we told the girls before the game, and they saw tonight, is that when you get to the playoffs, you had better be ready to play.”