Londonderry Lancers Girls Soccer '15

Champions at last: Pinkerton beats Londonderry in penalty kicks to win first ever state championship

EXETER — Midway through the first half of Sunday's Division 1 state championship game against Londonderry, Pinkerton Academy's Courtney Velho was awarded a penalty kick and given a chance to put her team ahead, but her shot sailed wide of the net.
The miss loomed large as the game remained scoreless through regulation, and then through two periods of overtime, but when the junior midfielder got a shot at redemption in the decisive penalty kick shootout, she made it count.
"I just knew that I had to make it," Velho said. "I couldn't let myself and my team down, it was a lot more important than the first so I just put my mind towards it and it went in."
Velho's shootout goal put the Astros on the board, and when goalie Sammy Mitchell stopped Londonderry's last attempt four rounds later, she and her teammates flooded onto the field to celebrate the first girls soccer championship in Pinkerton's history.
"Truthfully, I didn't realize it was over until they all came running to me, but after that it was just the most unbelievable experience ever," Mitchell said. "Senior year and you just won the state championship, nothing can get better than that."
Pinkerton's 1-0 shootout win played out like most predicted, as a low scoring, defensive grind that ultimately came down to a handful of plays. All but one of the two teams' last nine matchups since 2009 had been decided by one goal, and Pinkerton (18-1) coach Steve Gundrum said coming into the game that scoring on Londonderry (16-4) would be a major challenge.
"They have a great defensive team, they've only given up [nine] goals all year long, and to score on them is quite an accomplishment," Gundrum said. "We didn't quite get that, but then again, we played pretty well too. Either team could have won, it sounds cliche, but it's true, and we did."
Pinkerton did get some good chances, with the best being Velho's penalty kick, which she drew in the 34th minute after a Londonderry handball in the box. Even after that, the Astros finished the half with a pair of juicy shots from deep, one from Velho and another from forward Melanie Roberge, both of which forced Londonderry goalie Jackie Luckhardt to leap up for the saves near the crossbar.
The Astros continued to threaten the rest of the way, but couldn't find a way to beat Luckhardt, who finished with 12 saves on the day. Londonderry had some opportunities too, including a strike in the 56th minute from midfielder Mackenzie Donovan that Mitchell had to punch over the crossbar.
"I always felt like we'd win the game, always felt like we'd find an opening and finish it, and we were unfortunate a couple times," said Londonderry coach Derek Dane. "It's the agony of the game."
Once in penalty kicks, Londonderry midfielder Halle Hamilton scored first to put the pressure on, but then Velho came back with her goal to tie it at 1-1. Samantha LeClair and Catherine Goodwin traded goals in the second round, but in the third, Londonderry's Gretchen McGrath hit the crossbar, allowing Reanna Romano a chance to give Pinkerton all the separation they'd need.
Londonderry pulled even in the fourth for a moment when Erin Barnes scored bottom left, but Roberge came back with a goal of her own to make it 4-3, and after Mitchell saved Donovan's attempt to clinch the win, the victorious goalie had only one thing left to say.
"Number one, we're number one baby!"

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