SMYRNA — Same school, field, type of shot and result. Only the winning scorer and opposition were different.
Caravel Academy captured its second consecutive Division II girls’ soccer state championship Tuesday night with a 3-1 victory over No. 3 seed Indian River. It was a familiar scene for the defending champions, who finished with a 16-1-1 record.
The Buccaneers’ game-winning goal, which senior Meghan Bailey netted in the 74th minute, closely resembled Cece Poole’s shot in last year’s final versus Archmere that lifted Caravel to the top of the inaugural Division II tourney field.
With this year’s finalists knotted 1-1 and playing mostly even throughout the match, the ball found its way out to Bailey 40 yards from goal.
The senior lobbed what almost looked like a field goal attempt through a steady drizzle at Smyrna High. It took a high bounce in front of Indians keeper Brea McCray, slipped out of her grasp and went into the net for what proved to be the winning goal.
“All year coach has been saying ‘if the ball comes out, just kick it back in and look up at the goal,’” Bailey said. “I honestly just hit it and I didn’t even look up. When I saw it go through her hands, it was so incredible.”
Though not counting on low percentage shots to win tournament games, that it happened in consecutive postseasons wasn’t a complete surprise to Caravel coach Tom Brackin. As Bailey said, the Buccaneers work on those types of attempts at practice.
“We have a set thing that if the ball comes out, try to put it on frame,” he said. “The game winner last year came that way. Different player but the same result.”
Rather than relying on speed on the rain-slick turf, the top-seeded Buccaneers used their muscle to limit Indian River’s chances to score while creating their own throughout the contest. Caravel outshot the Indians 13-9 and held a 9-3 cornerkick advantage.
The Buccaneers’ first goal came from a player who minutes earlier received a yellow card for running into McCray.
Eighth-grader Summer Stewart from the top of the box drilled an attempt off the crossbar in the 33rd minute. The ball ricochet all the way back out to her about five feet left of the initial attempt and this time Stewart rolled it inside the far post for a 1-0 Buccaneers lead.
Early in the second half, however, IR (15-4) tied the match when junior Brooke Beam lined a free kick from 20 yards out near the right sideline into the top left corner of the net.
Prior to Bailey’s winner, IR had its best chance at taking a one-goal advantage in the 53rd minute when Natalie Herrera had an empty-net look from inside the box after Buccaneers keeper Sydney Keld fell down while parrying an earlier shot attempt.
Herrera, though, elected for one too many touches while attempting to dribble around a Caravel defender, which allowed Buccaneers defenders time to recover and keep the sophomore from getting off a shot.
“We made some adjustments in the second half and were playing pretty well,” IR coach Steve Kilby said. “The second goal (Bailey’s) was unfortunate. It was just a lobbed ball that we didn’t handle.”
Losing in that fashion and watching Caravel — which scored its final goal in the 77th minute when it was able to counter IR pushing forward to try and re-tie the match — Kilby added will make his many returning players hungrier to win a championship next season.
“To comeback and battle to get the game tied up was really impressive,” he said. “It’s a huge learning experience going all the way through the tournament and getting to the final. I think it will pay dividends for our younger girls going forward.”