Polk County goalkeeper Cate Brown dives to stop a penalty kick in the second half of Thursday's match

The moment seemed big, maybe too big for a freshman gaoalkeeper.

But not for Cate Brown, for she had a plan.

“I’ve got a pretty good strategy,” Brown said.

Polk County needed it, too. The Wolverines clung to a 3-1 second-half lead over Gray Stone Day that seemed more precarious wth every step the Knights’ Cambell Bullard took toward the penalty kick spot. Gray Stone had just scored two minutes earlier; now Bullard prepared for a penalty to pull the Knights even closer.

Except Cate Brown had a plan.

Bullard sent a low rolling shot toward the left post. Brown beat the ball there, deflecting it harmlessly out of bounds. Polk County’s defense cleared the ensuing corner kick, the Wolverines scored twice more in the final 11 minutes and Polk could begin planning for Monday’s third round thanks to its 5-1 victory.

The Wolverines (13-4-3) will host Thomas Jefferson (13-3) in that matchup, Polk’s first trip to the third round since 2019.

No small thanks to Cate Brown and her plan.

“The penalty was the big swing in momentum,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “(GSD head coach Scott Wolfe) said the same thing. He said as soon as it didn’t go, he said most of their girls are like ohhh. And our girls are (celebrating), they’re hugging Cate.

“Cate made the play, and then we got ourselves back together, and I thought after that we really picked the game back up. Once we scored the fourth one, you knew it was pretty much over.”

Polk County defender Mia Wolfe heads away a ball from Gray Stone Day’s Ella Wilson during the second half of Thursday’s second-round playoff match

The Wolverines controlled the flow of play from the outset, but didn’t score until midway through the first half when Charley Dusenbury centered a pass to Elena Carroll, who redirected it to Gabby Savaia, who stood alone between two defenders.

Savaia took the pass, raced forward into the penalty area and slipped a shot just inside the right post, giving Polk a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute.

The margin stayed there until the 36th minute, when Caroline Taylor corralled a free ball in the Knights’ half of the field and proceeded to dribble through three GSD defenders, driving almost to the six-yard line before also rolling a shot in the right side of the net, her solo effort doubling the Wolverines’ lead.

Taylor helped set up Polk’s third goal early in the second half, pushing down the right wing and hitting a cross to Hayden Blackwell. One GSD defender knocked Blackwell off the ball, but another played it right back to her near the six, and Blackwell quickly stuffed a shot in the net for a 3-0 Polk lead.

Savaia and Taylor both had sterling scoring chances denied in the next few minutes, and the Wolverines seemed to be rolling until GSD’s Anna Morgan bumped aside a Polk defender and got a point-blank shot past Brown in the 53rd minute.

The Knights seemed set to score again moments later, only to see Brown turn away that chance. Kylie Lewis made it 4-1 for Polk in the 69th minute and Dusenbury closed the scoring with a strike in the final minute.

“I felt it should have been over before they got the penalty kick,” Charles said. “So it really shouldn’t have added as much because weshould have had two more goals before that.

“But you’re not going to score all of them, and it’s a good experience for us. You get in the playoffs and you see all kinds of things happen. So we go into Monday and if something bad happens, you say, hey, we’ve been there and we’ve just got to buckle down and go play again.”

They’ll get the chance in part because of the plan that Cate Brown had – and executed.

“It’s a huge win,” she said. “I was super nervous in the first half, but it feels so good to win.”

Polk County players smother Hayden Blackwell after her goal in the second half of Thursday’s match