As Gabby Elliott walked to the net, mentally preparing for her first-ever high school shootout, the Blue Springs sophomore goalie grasped the importance of the moment.
“I was thinking I haven’t been in a shootout since I was, like, 10 years old, and here I am, going into a shootout against our biggest rival,” said Elliott, who stood tall in the net, blocking two Blue Springs South shots, while her Wildcat teammates connected on their first four attempts to claim a 4-2 edge in the shootout and a 2-1 Suburban Big Six victory over the heavily favored Jaguars.
Blue Springs entered this season with an 0-40 mark in conference games the past four years and had not defeated crosstown rival Blue Springs South since earning a 1-0 victory in 2013, a span of consecutive 13 losses.
But the 8-13 Wildcats have won their last three conference games and five of their last seven, which gave them a world of confidence heading into the emotional Dave Sheridan Cup match, which celebrates the life of Sheridan, a former Jaguars coach who died from cancer.
Before the game, members of each team took a flower and presented it to a friend or loved one who is either battling cancer now or is cancer free. Blue Springs football coach Kelly Donohoe was the recipient of many of those flowers as he battled cancer during the 2018 football season.
“That caught me off guard,” Donohoe said as he cheered the Wildcats on to the emotion-charged win. “First, one player brings me a rose, then all of a sudden, most of the team is bringing me roses. That was something I will never forget and I really want to thank our girls.”
He really wanted to thank them after the big win, which came following a late Jaguar goal by Brie Severns, who knotted the game at 1-all with just 20 seconds left in regulation.
“That told me something about our girls,” Blue Springs coach Doug McLagan said. “We had no business giving up a goal with 20 seconds left in the game, but they didn’t lie down and die after it happened.
“They came back and played some of the best soccer they have played all season – and that’s what we’ve been doing the past few weeks. We really played well tonight and this is a big win. Gabby was big in goal and scoring on all four attempts at the end was huge.”
Katy Knudsen, who scored in the 74th minute to give Blue Springs that short-lived 1-0 lead, scored the first shootout goal against South’s Abi Carino.
Elliott had stopped the first South attempt, which made Knudsen’s goal even more important.
“They’d just missed and I knew it would give us a lot of confidence if we scored,” Knudsen said. “I just kicked it and it went in, it was huge.
South’s Braylee Childers then scored to make it 1-1 in the shootout, but Mady Cates scored to give the Wildcats a 2-1 advantage.
“I’ll admit, I was a little shaky,” Cates said, “but I felt more confident after I saw Katy score.”
Elliott came up with her second save of the shootout and Aubrey Avalos scored to give the Wildcats a 3-1 advantage.
“I think you saw the heart of our team tonight in regulation and the shootout,” Avalos said. “We just wanted to keep scoring because Gabby had two stops and we were so close to winning.”
Severns scored on her shootout attempt, to cut the South deficit to 3-2, putting all the pressure on Hannah Young.
“I knew if I scored, we’d win, so I just tried to stay calm,” said Young, who slipped the kick to the right of Carino. “Coach tells us to shoot left, but I felt like shooting right was the right thing to do. I was so happy when I scored.”
So were her teammates, as they rushed out to mob Young, Elliott and the other participants in the white-knuckle shootout win.
As the players celebrated, and received the Sheridan Cup from the family of the much-respected former South coach, the lights went out at Larry Stewart Memorial Stadium.
“That’s a first for us,” McLagan quipped. “They are usually the team that is celebrating and we’re long gone after the lights are turned out. I’m just happy for our kids. They played so hard tonight they deserve a win like this.”