By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Chief Editor
HUNTSVILLE- With the closing seconds of a Final Four battle with Vestavia Hills, Spain Park’s Marybeth O’Bryant took a pass from an Addy Soehn, set it on her right foot, planted and let a prayer fly.
His shot bounced 5 yards into the penalty area and straight towards the Vestavia Hills keeper. But when he reached the keeper, he bounced higher than expected, slipped through his hands and into the back of the net for a winner with four seconds left.
The goal broke a 1-1 tie in the dying seconds as the Jaguars cruised to a 2-1 victory to avenge two regular season losses to the Rebels and clinch a ticket to the Class 7A state championship game Saturday.
O’Bryant’s miracle goal continued a strong playoff streak of impressive second-half play.
Spain Park controlled the ball for the majority of the last 21 minutes of the game, but the Jags couldn’t capitalize until the dying seconds.
They had a shot blocked from a diving save by the Vestavia keeper and then hit the crossbar twice, all within the space of three minutes.
But with that constant pressure, the Jags wore the Rebels down and fought to the finish, which eventually led to a throw-in from the left sideline with 15 seconds left.
The ball was quickly passed down the middle of the field before finding its way to an open O’Bryant for the game winner.
The thrilling end to the game matched the action of the first half, as the game started off quietly with both teams trading possession throughout the first half before a furious finish.
After 37 minutes of scoreless action, the game quickly took an attacking turn in the last three minutes of the half.
The Jaguars, who had been close throughout the half with five of their six shots on goal, were able to capitalize with 2:42 left at halftime.
After a team-mate headed the ball past a Vestavia Hills player, Spain Park’s Tatum Ahlemeyer was there for the deflection.
She extended her right foot just far enough to clip the ball and direct it to the left side of the net, catching the Vestavia keeper off guard for a 1-0 advantage.
But 1h15 later, the rebels came right back with a goal of their own.
Lainey Whitson was able to capitalize on a quick push down the field when she buried a shot into the back of the net to send the game level at half-time at 1-1.
The Rebels capitalized on that confidence early in the second half and controlled the ball for the first 17 minutes of the period.
Spain Park’s Lillian Gourley was forced to make a few saves early in the period, while the Rebels wasted a few chances, including a shot that grazed the top of the crossbar.
The Jags, hot on their heels at the time, quickly changed direction and started reaching for the ball quicker which allowed them to retain possession for much of the final 20 minutes, eventually wearing down the Rebels for the winning goal.
Spain Park will now face Fairhope for the Class 7A Championship at 10 a.m. Saturday. This is the first trip to the league game for the Jaguars since the 2011 season when they won the title.