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Soccer: Needham's save lifts West girls to PK win over South
West Forsyth goalkeeper A.J. Needham is mobbed by teammates after making the game-winning save in penalties to give the Wolverines a win over South Forsyth on March 19, 2019 at West Forsyth High School. - photo by Ian Frazer

West Forsyth’s AJ Needham and South Forsyth’s Anna Montgomery spent all of Tuesday’s matchup making save after save in their respective goals.

It was only fitting, then, that a scoreless game that featured plenty of close plays inside the box was ultimately decided by way of a penalty shootout. Still, it’s not the ideal scenario for any goalkeeper, and Needham was no exception.

“PKs are so nerve-wracking in general,” Needham said. “Yes, it's my job to save them, but it's their job to make them. I trusted them.”

That trust didn’t go unanswered. Amanda Ewers, Courtney Jebavy, Emma Armstrong and Isa Aguilar converted their kicks for the Wolverines to help keep the shootout even at 4-4, and after a made kick from Jordan Wright, South was down to its last chance. The War Eagles’ Morgan Fleeman kicked the ball towards the top of the net, but Needham leaped up to deflect it off the crossbar, triggering the Wolverines' celebration of a 5-4 win in penalties for a 1-0 match win over South.

West Forsyth's Courtney Jebavy takes a touch during the Wolverines' game against South Forsyth on March 19, 2019 at West Forsyth High School. - photo by Ian Frazer
“We had a lot of girls that were hurt, and for us to kind of limp through this game and find a way to pull out the PKs at the end, it's very exciting,” West coach Jason Galt said. “It's something we practice every day. At the end of practice, we practice PKs, and the girls had the confidence, went up there and did a great job.”

The absence of key starters in the back certainly made an impact on West’s defense. Possession was pretty even throughout and West had its early chances, but couldn't convert them. South had some success, but wasn’t able to fully develop their chances in the first half.

South spent the early part of the second half attacking, and just barely missed a goal when Lauren Kelly struck the crossbar with 36:17 left in regulation. Ten minutes later, West’s Ava Martin had a clear shot from the right side of the War Eagles’ net, but Montgomery made a nice diving save towards her left to keep the game scoreless. Needham thwarted South’s last big scoring chance with 16 minutes to go, with the ball just grazing the top of the net.

“I think South played extremely hard,” Galt said. “I give a lot of credit to them -- they outplayed us. They wanted it more than we did. You combine that with being banged up, and it's a recipe for South to have success. I told them, ‘You've got to find a way. Someone's going to be the hero tonight.’ Tonight, the hero was the keeper.”

West’s keeper did her job making her saves, but Needham's role has been expanded with the amount of injuries the Wolverines are battling. On Tuesday, West played five girls with limited playing time, including sophomore Bennett Beisbier, who was making her first start of the year on defense. Needham's senior leadership might be West's key to outlasting its recent string of bad luck.

“I find myself communicating more than if I had our four back line,” Needham said. “I have to be more aware because they're out of position -- they kind of need me to guide them and tell them where to go, where to be. I think that part keeps me on my toes a little bit more.”

The victory puts West at 4-4-1 overall and 3-2 in Region 5-7A play. South fell to 1-6, 0-4.

South Forsyth's Nick Postell and West Forsyth's Preston Baker pursue a ball during the teams' game on March 19, 2019 at West Forsyth High School. - photo by Ian Frazer
South Forsyth boys 3, West Forsyth 0

The War Eagle boys got on the board early against the Wolverines, with Jose Ventura scoring with 32:14 left in the first half. West played well enough to stay in it, but couldn't find enough offensive success in South's half of the field to even the score.

South scored two late goals to put the game away for good. Andrew Shah converted a one-on-one opportunity for South with 12:49 left, and Nick Postell scored with 3:19 left. The War Eagles improved their overall record to 6-3-1 overall and 5-2  in Region 5-7A. West dropped to 0-10-1 overall and 0-8 in the region.