On Tuesday night, the West Forsyth girls soccer team felt both the agony and elation that penalty kicks can bring.
When South Forsyth sophomore Nikki Bario converted one with just under 15 minutes left in the second half, West saw the lead it had enjoyed for most of the match flipped into a 2-1 deficit. A minute after that, a storm moving through the area sent the teams inside, threatening to sap momentum that the Wolverines could put towards a tying goal.
But this game would be a reversal of the streak of underachievement that had defined West’s region play. When the match resumed, the Wolverines put an extra attacker forward and increased the pressure on South’s defense.
With about five minutes left in regulation, Sophia Peach volleyed home a goal off a corner to equalize for West. And when the match moved to penalties after a scoreless extra time period, South missed its first two changes and the Wolverines hit all of theirs, coming out with a 4-2 win.
“It feels good to finally have something go our way,” said Wolverines junior defender Kristy Jebavy, who scored the clinching goal in the shootout. “We’ve just been working on what we need to be working on, so I think we’ve been doing what we need to do to make the outcome change.”
West’s win provided some separation to the Region 5-7A race, although it didn’t necessarily favor the Wolverines. Lambert, who beat North Forsyth 9-0 on Tuesday, moved into sole possession of first place, while South (9-3, 5-2 Region 5-7A) dropped a game back of the Longhorns with the loss. West (8-5, 3-3) is in fourth place behind Milton, who beat Forsyth Central 1-0 on Tuesday.
The gap doesn’t feel so large to the Wolverines, though.
“We’re right there,” West head coach Jason Bayush said.
There’s ample evidence to back that up. West has returned most of the talent from a team that almost won a state title in 2016. The Wolverines lost to South on a goal they surrendered with seven seconds left in regulation, fell to Milton by a goal, and lost to Lambert in penalty kicks.
A comfortable 3-0 win over Forsyth Central two weeks ago was a start for West, and victories over Auburn, North Forsyth and fourth-ranked Lassiter provided more evidence to sustain the Wolverines’ confidence.
The victory over South, which entered Tuesday ranked No. 3 in Class 7A, might be the peak of the turnaround.
“We just got off to a slow start,” Bayush said. “… It was kind of a downward spiral for a minute, and we just had to regroup. We’re just as good as anyone else if we show up to play.”
The Wolverines will have an opportunity to further move up the region standings on Friday, when they’re scheduled to face Milton on the road. South doesn’t play until March 28, when the War Eagles are set to face Forsyth Central.
The boys game between West and South that was scheduled for Tuesday was postponed due to storms in the area.