It’s all a blur to Sarah Curtis.
The Heritage Academy sophomore forward doesn’t remember all of the details. Chalk that up to the emotion associated with your first playoff game.
The excitement and the tension of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) first-round Division III playoff game didn’t prevent Curtis from delivering a little magic.
Curtis’ right-footed shot from just above the 18 in the second overtime session lifted the Heritage Academy girls soccer team to a 2-1 victory against Indianola Academy on Tuesday night at the downtown Columbus Soccer Complex.
The win pushes Heritage Academy (11-2) into the North State title match against Bayou Academy, which beat Starkville Academy 4-0 Tuesday afternoon, at a time to be determined Thursday in Columbus.
“I just dribbled the ball and took a lucky shot and prayed it went in,” Curtis said of what she believes is the first game-winning goal of her career. “I was dribbling from the far right side and I kind of came in because one of their defensive players as coming behind me. I looked up and I shot it and it went into the top right corner. It definitely was an impossible angle because everything was so rushed. I was looking for a pass and instead I just shot it.”
Curtis thought the shot was going to go over the crossbar, but she quickly realized that wasn’t going to be the case as it sank into the back of the net.
“It’s very gratifying when you have won two or three games by big margins that your girls can win a really tight game in overtime playing a 100 minutes of soccer,” Heritage Academy coach Tom Velek said. “It’s not just we’re going to win the ones we’re supposed to win against the teams we’re supposed to dominate. It’s we’re going to win the ones that are really close and we have to fight for.”
A week ago, Velek was at a loss for words following his team’s recent victory against Starkville Academy. The win moved the team one win away from clinching the district title. A victory last week against Columbus Christian Academy secured that milestone and allowed Velek to break out district championship T-shirt.
On Tuesday, Velek didn’t believe Curtis was able to score from the angle she had. He said he has repeatedly told his players not to shoot from spots like that, but he quickly changed his tune when Curtis sparked a victory celebration.
“The keeper went near to the post and it went between the keeper and near post. It was incredible,” Velek said.
The win continued a magical season for the Lady Patriots, who have more than doubled their win total from the 2017 campaign, when they missed qualifying for the postseason by one goal. The players talked in the preseason about using that disappointment as motivation. They talked Monday about how well everyone has come together and contributed to what has been a memorable season. Despite the lack of playoff experience, the Lady Patriots said they weren’t satisfied with just making it there.
Indianola Academy tested that resolve by packing the box and relying on counter attacks in the first half. Haley Barker’s goal off a long shot that sailed over the head of the goalkeeper gave the Lady Patriots a 1-0 lead at halftime.
The Lady Colonels evened the match in the second half and forced the teams into two 10-minute overtime sessions.
“It was a punch to the gut,” Velek said of the goal Indianola Academy scored. “I try to tell them that some games are like prize fights. You hit them, they hit you back, you hit, they hit you back. They all looked at me and said, ‘What is a prize fight?’ Winning the tight ones is satisfying.”
Curtis said the Lady Patriots had to calm down, take their time, and play smart. It just so happened she had the ball at her feet with a chance to add to a memorable campaign. When given the opportunity to score, she didn’t disappoint.
“When we were tied, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Curtis said. “When I scored, everyone came and hugged me and the crowd was so happy and our team was cheering. I don’t think I will ever forget how excited everyone was.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.