CLOVER — Playing away from home in a battle of top-15 teams, the Clover High School girls soccer team responded to the challenge.
The Lady Blue Eagles eked out a 3-2 win over highly-regarded Nation Ford, with sophomore Sierra Hartman delivering the sudden death game winner in a nail-biter decided by penalty kicks.
Entering the Region 3-AAAA showdown, Clover was ranked No. 14 in the state and Nation Ford held the No. 15 ranking. The host Lady Falcons appeared to have nailed down a big region win, leading 2-1 with 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
But Samantha Pantuosco was not to be denied. The senior mainstay scored the second of her two goals in regulation to send the game into overtime.
After the teams battled to a scoreless overtime period, it became evident the game would be decided by penalty kicks, with Pantuosco booting the game-winner in dramatic fashion.
CHS head coach Kelsey Geary said the second-half rally was a confidence-builder for the Lady Blue Eagles.
The final stats revealed the games competitive flow from start to finish.
Nation Ford had three corner kicks and Clover had two. The CHS team had 10 shots on goal to Nation Fords eight.
Lady Blue Eagle goalkeeper Brandi Cornelio contributed to the narrow win with six saves to her credit.
Clovers gutsy win was Nation Fords first region loss, improving the CHS girls to 3-2 in region competition.
Though the Lady Blue Eagles fell to tradition-rich Christ Church of Greenville in a 1-0 nail-biter earlier in the week, the closely-contested game served as a good tune-up for crucial region games to follow.
Visiting Christ Church scored on a direct kick in overtime on a chilly night for players and spectators at Memorial Stadium.
The Lady Blue Eagles were playing without leading scorer Samantha Prytulak, who is expected to rejoin the team after spring break.
We made too many fouls and were unable to score, said Geary. They scored off of a foul.
The CHS coach lauded the teams defensive play as a challenging region schedule continues.
Region 3-AAAA is demanding this season as in years past, Geary said in assessing the most recent 4A alignment that is York County-friendly with seven schools in the county. There are strong teams in the region, including Nation Ford, Fort Mill, Northwestern, South Pointe and Rock Hill.
Pantuosco, whose steady presence on the field has impacted the program in recent years, said the teams mindset has a lot to do with the potential for success.
The key to being successful is to keep our heads up and build the team chemistry needed to reach our goals, she said. Playing together as a team is as important as the talent level.
Pantuosco has a pretty good idea what will happen if the Lady Blue Eagle players arent on the same page.
If we become negative, we will fall apart, she said. Our team has the potential to make it happen on the playing field.
Pantuosco is capable of stepping to the forefront as evidenced by her performance in the win over Nation Ford.
I feel good about my game at this stage of the season, she said. Theres always room for improvement.
The Lady Blue Eagles host rival York Thursday in the final region clash until after spring break when Clover travels to South Pointe on April 9. Both games have 7 p.m. starting times.
Mindful of the teams potential when it all comes together, Geary maintains a positive outlook.
The kids will bounce back, she said after the narrow loss to Christ Church. They are strong.