WHEELING - There are never good ways to lose, but there are definitely ways to lose that leave a coach and players shaking their heads and wondering what could have been.
Saturday morning's OVAC Cup girls' semifinal contest between West Virginia big-school powers Brooke and Wheeling Park provided an ending that at one point had both coaches shaking their heads, but only one exiting the field with a victory and a chance to play for the championship Monday.
Junior Lauren Altobell turned into an instant hero, taking over in net with a little more than two minutes to play in the second, five-minute overtime period before providing what turned out to be the game-winning shot in the penalty-kick shootout as the Bruins moved on with a heart-pounding 2-1 victory against the stunned Patriots at Wheeling Island Stadium.
"I really hate having to go to penalty kicks," Brooke coach Lee Weppler admitted. "But I am just so glad that we got out of here with the victory. Both teams just played so well defensively and you just got the feeling that it could take a while.
"No question, both teams really played their hearts out."
With the score knotted at 1-1, senior captain Shelby Cronin gave the Bruins an early advantage in the PK round by knocking one past Park keeper Devyn Nickerson, followed by the Patriots' having Jordan Miller's effort bounce off the post.
However, controversy reared its ugly head in the third round of PKs and with Brooke owning a 2-1 advantage. Freshman Leila Hannaoui stepped up and watched her shot skip off to the right of the net, but the back official ruled that Park's Nickerson had moved early and allowed a second kick.
Hannaoui's second attempt was also off the mark, but again the official ruled Nickerson had moved and a third shot was awarded. With the Park coaching staff visibly upset, Hannaoui buried the third shot, only to have the same back official overturn it because he was giving instructions to Nickerson, which obviously upset Weppler and his staff.
Finally Hannaoui, on her fourth attempt, got off a shot that counted and made its way into the back of the net. With the score sitting at 4-3, Cronin, the Bruins' final shooter, stepped to the ball and the lefty drilled it into the corner for a victory.
"It just seems like this happens to us every year," a dejected Park coach Aubrey Taylor said. "This is the fourth year in a row that a referee's error and decision has affected the outcome of our game. How do you allow a player four shots to make one in that situation?"
While it looked like the game might go to the half scoreless, the Bruins had other ideas and were finally able to get one past Nickerson with 2:38 showing on the clock.
Brooke had worked the ball deep into Patriots territory before sophomore Cheyenne Hudson delivered a hard pass toward the middle of the field with senior Michaela Hinerman's diving blast finding its way high into the back of the net for a 1-0 score.
The Bruins actually had a pair of outstanding opportunities early on, with a Hinerman free-kick from 24 yards out coming in just high and bouncing off the top post. Hudson also had a chance at the 25-minute mark. With Nickerson chasing the ball and out of net, Hudson's roller quietly made its way past the front of the net.
Park's biggest threat came with six minutes showing with Cierra Yantz's shot glancing off of keeper Payge Farmer's hands and over the bar.
After a nearly 15-second scrum in front of the Brooke net midway through the second half the Patriots were eventually awarded a penalty kick that senior Mikia Mueller calmly drilled past a diving Farmer into the left corner of the net to even the count at 1-1 with 19:08 to play in regulation.
Park had another chance a short time later with Farmer knocking blocking Briella Taylor's shot with 12:30 play, and the ball rolling just past the corner of the net to keep the game knotted.
"I think we created a lot of chances and opportunities," Taylor added. "We just couldn't get the ball in and you have to make shots like that to win games."