Pensacola, FL - Valdosta State continues to make its presence known in the team’s inaugural season, securing a spot in the Gulf South Conference Championship with a win over West Florida Friday afternoon.
The Blazers came back from a one-goal deficit twice and fought through two overtime periods tied, 2-2, before winning the match on penalty kicks, 5-4.
In a battle between West Florida senior goalkeeper Lauren Byrd and Valdosta State freshman keeper Olivia Mills, Mills prevailed. She finished the match with seven saves, three more than Byrd, and made the lone save VSU would need during penalty kicks.
After that, Abbi Edwards and Arielle Sabina would clinch the match by making the final two penalty kicks for Valdosta State, securing a meeting with North Alabama at noon Sunday for the GSC Championship.
West Florida possessed the ball early, then an Argonaut was brought down in the box just under nine minutes into the match. Midfielder Jordan Stone shot the penalty kick and missed, but the officials gave the Argonauts another chance. On the second penalty kick Mills made the save.
With 14 minutes left in the half, it looked as if the Argonauts had taken the lead, but Tina Murray was off sides. A mere 30 seconds later, Aveann Douglas sent a through ball to Murray, who was able to sneak through for the first goal of the match.
Three minutes later, Valdosta State scored the first equalizer off a corner. The corner kick sailed into the box and touched a number of Blazers before Casey Ponder was able to put it in to tie the match.
West Florida had an excellent chance to take the lead with eight minutes left in the half, but Mills made a diving save. The Argonauts were awarded a corner kick off the save and did take the lead with a header from midfielder Tori Fish, 2-1. That would be the score at halftime.
Valdosta State looked to be the better team throughout much of the second half, possessing the ball most of the time. West Florida would make a few runs at the goal, but the Blazers held control of the ball most of the half.
With just 10:27 left in the match, Valdosta State tied it yet again off another corner kick. Leanne Bishop was able to head in VSU’s second goal of the day off a corner kick from Sabina.
Tina Murray almost helped West Florida regain the lead directly after VSU’s second goal, but she put the ball just right of the goal. Neither the Argonauts nor Valdosta State would see another great scoring chance before the end of regulation.
Valdosta State was clearly the aggressor to start the overtime period. The Blazers registered two shots on goal in the first three minutes of the period.
The best opportunity of the first overtime period belonged to Murray of West Florida. She had an open run down the right side and saw a one-on-one with Mills. Murray was wide right on her shot. Murray would get another opportunity later, but VSU’s defenders supported Mills to stonewall Murray.
Four minutes into the second overtime period, Valdosta State had an excellent opportunity. Ponder pushed it ahead to draw the UWF goalkeeper out, and left the ball for Edwards. The ball passed the net just out of reach of Edwards.
West Florida would have multiple opportunities off a corner kick seconds later, but could not convert due to the suffocating VSU defense in front of the net.
With just over a minute left, Bishop pushed the ball down the middle and rifled a shot just wide of the goal for another missed opportunity. It would be the last opportunity for both teams before going to penalty kicks.
Valdosta State would make all five penalty kicks, four of which were to the left. Mills made the save on West Florida’s third shot to give the Blazers a chance. After that, Edwards and Sabina made both of their penalty kicks to the left side to clinch the match for Valdosta State.
The Blazers will face North Alabama at noon Sunday for the Gulf South Conference Championship.