Polk County's Ashley Love works to gain possession of the ball during Wednesday's loss.

Bearcats thwart Polk’s WHC title bid in shootout

The rain stopped Wednesday night in Wolverine Stadium just as Polk County’s tears began to fall.

One hundred minutes of grueling, emotional, scoreless soccer left Polk County and Hendersonville facing perhaps the unkindest of tiebreaking methods in team sports – penalty kicks. No team defense, no fighting for space and a look at the net, just the ball and a one-on-one battle between shooter and goalkeeper.

The shootout, so kind to Polk County in its playoff win last spring over West Stokes, did not offer the same charity this go-around. Polk made one of its four penalty attempts, Hendersonville made three of four and that earned the Bearcats the 0-0 (3-1) win, the Western Highlands Conference regular-season championship and the league’s top seed for the upcoming state 2A playoffs.

Having parried aside so many Hendersonville (17-3-1, 11-1) offensive surges throughout the rainy evening, it seemed an unjust ending for the Wolverines (14-4, 10-2).

“We’ve had a few of these with Hendersonville,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles.

None likely hurt any more than this one.

The Bearcats made several tweaks after their 3-0 loss to Polk in the first meeting between the two schools, and Hendersonville controlled the flow of play for much of the game. But Rhian Alley led a Polk defense that, missing senior Leah Stockdale, still kept the Bearcats from scoring for the second straight game, 180 consecutive minutes in which the Bearcats never put a shot past Polk goalkeeper Malena Roman.

Roman was steady Wednesday, stopping a handful of Bearcat shots and making a key play with 20 minutes remaining, leaving the net to force Kamryn Blackwell to miss wide on a one-on-one opportunity.

Polk then had its own breakaway opportunity with a minute left in regular time, Caroline Lee pushing into the penalty box, but barely unable to get a touch on the ball before Hendersonville goalkeeper Camryn Coggins smothered it.

Roman made a leaping save on a Breanna Kirk free kick late in the first overtime period, and that was largely the only real scoring threat either team had in the two 10-minute overtimes.

After the drama of regulation and the two overtime periods, the penalty round proved almost anti-climatic. Hendersonville placed three of its four shots in near-perfect locations, offering reserve goalkeeper Kendall Hall little opportunity to make a play. The Wolverines, meanwhile, missed twice and Coggins made a diving stop on the final attempt to deny Polk County a repeat WHC title.

“They were a little bit stronger personnel-wise than in the first game, and they made some adjustments,” Charles said. “We struggled to get ourselves into some kind of rhythm.

“They had the better of the game for the first 20 or 25 minutes. I thought the difference was that our girls responded in terms of determination. In the second half we were a lot more determined and worked a lot harder.”

Polk County will now wait until Monday to learn its first-round 2A playoff opponent. The second seed from the WHC, the Wolverines are expected to have at least one home game in the postseason.