Well, that couldn’t have been any more dramatic.
The Mabank Lady Panthers watched a three-goal cushion slip away in a matter of minutes and then waited until the last minute to shore up a 4-3 victory over the Hallsville Lady Cats Friday at Panther Stadium in a Region II-4A sectional match.
It was a historic win for the Lady Panthers (19-7-1), who have advanced to the regional quarterfinals for the first time in school history. Mabank, which has won 10 straight matches dating back to the regular season, will move on to face Friday night’s winner between Red Oak and Ennis.
Senior Ashton Norman booted the game winner, completing a hat trick at the most crucial of times. With one minute left, Norman found herself one-on-one with Hallsville backup goalkeeper Adrianna Pitt.
With no clear shot, Norman juked from right to left and sent the ball into the net with her left foot to send the Lady Panthers into a frenzy.
“This is amazing,” said Norman, who has signed to play soccer at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches next year. “This is such a good feeling. I feel like we’re leaving a legacy here.”
Saying she felt good was impressive considering the physical nature of the game left her with a limp and an ice pack on her leg immediately afterward. In fact, Hallsville’s regular goalkeeper, Audrey Dotson, couldn’t even finish the game after getting banged up on two collisions with Mabank’s Savannah Henderson — who scored the Lady Panthers’ other goal.
Hallsville (18-7-1) controlled the offensive tempo early, but it was Mabank that struck first on Norman’s first goal — a rocket from about 20 yards out that sailed over Dotson’s head with 11:20 left in the first half.
Henderson made a nice move unmarked in front of the Hallsville goal and put it in the net three minutes into the second half to make it 2-0, and then Norman rifled another ball into the net three minutes later to make it 3-0.
Mabank head coach Jeffrey Downs, sensing his team had a comfortable lead, began subbing in players to give regulars a breather. He admitted later it was the wrong time, as the Lady Panthers began to get too relaxed at a time when Hallsville brought on an extra striker to try to strengthen its attack.
When Hallsville striker Lacee Blakeley beat Mabank keeper Bailey Swain around the 20-minute mark to make it 3-1, it lit a fire under the Lady Cats that burned hot over the next 10 minutes.
Teammate Mallori Hardaway scored about a minute later to cut it to 3-2, and five minutes after that, Blakeley completed the stunning comeback to tie the game at 3-3.
“Shock,” Henderson said. “I was in complete shock.”
Said Downs: “It’s 3-0, you think you can start taking a couple out to get them some rest, and I think that, combined with us being a little lax ... we just starting losing the little battles and not doing the things we need to do to win.”
Each team had an opportunity over the final eight minutes to score the go-ahead goal, but neither could take advantage. Hallsville missed the net on a restart from about 20 yards out and moments later failed to convert on a corner kick.
Mabank had a great shot with about 12 minutes left when Henderson got a breakaway but missed a shot across the face of the goal that went wide.
That miss set up the more dramatic finish — one the Lady Panthers were more than happy to take.
“That’s the thing about this team,” said Henderson, who has 48 goals this season. “We’re never going to give up.”