Penquis girls advance to regional final after double overtime win vs. Shead
HAMPDEN — Throughout the inaugural regular season of 8-player soccer the Penquis Valley High School girls kept the opposition from getting the ball in the team’s net with tremendous success, earning 12 shutouts in 14 games and allowing just three goals in the other two games, which were also victories, to finish with a perfect 14-0 record and the top seed for the Small School North playoffs.
During a semifinal contest against fourth-seeded Shead High School of Eastport on the artificial turf at Hampden Academy on the evening of Nov. 1, the Patriot players found themselves in familiar territory at the defensive end but in far less regular circumstances at the opposite side of the field. Heading in, Penquis was held to just a single goal only once but the postseason match was scoreless after regulation and then the first 15-minute overtime session.
With the possibility looming of penalty kicks being needed to determine a victor, Violet Chai broke the 0-0 stalemate with a golden goal to send the Patriots (15-0) on to the regional championship.
In the final two minutes of the second overtime Addison Conklin passed the ball to Chai as she broke away from the Shead defense. She got a step ahead of the last defender to get a shot off and Chai sent it in at the 1:21-mark.
Still trying to catch her breath after the play and excitement of being mobbed by her teammates on the field, Chai said it feels great to have scored the game-winner. “I never expected our season to go this way, coming from middle school,” she said, with the freshman saying she had never had a winning goal quite like that.
“That was definitely the most we have been pushed all season and unfortunately it came down to overtime,” head coach Chris Downing said. “But just like they’ve done 14 games before this, these girls dug in with everything that they had. They didn’t give up and they made it happen.”
Penquis keeper Brooklyn Decker made a game-high 10 saves on 19 shots, including four in the second overtime to keep the Tigers (Shead ends the season at 11-4-1 after being shut out for the first time in 2023) from escaping with the win. She said conditions are a bit tougher on the artificial turf, in addition to coping with temperatures that dropped down to the freezing mark by the game’s end.
“The balls go so much faster, it’s scary,” Decker said. “You slide easier too.”
As the top seed in the North region, Penquis earned a bye into the semifinal round which resulted in the team playing in its first contest since the regular season finale on Oct. 17. Downing said in the two plus-weeks since then weather and other factors led to the Patriots at times practicing in less than ideal conditions such as inside the gym.
“We did get lucky,” Downing said. “Hampden let us practice out here last week, Dover let us practice at their field house last night.”
Penquis will play on the turf again for the 8-player Small School North championship at the Dr. Gehrig Johnson Athletic Complex at Presque Isle Middle School, with the game scheduled for 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The Patriots will face second seed Katahdin High School of Stacyville (10-4-1).
During the regular season the Patriots swept the Cougars, winning 2-0 in Milo on Sept. 15 and coming away with a victory in northern Penobscot County 4-2 on Oct. 9.
“We’re going to spend the next few days getting prepared for them,” Downing said, mentioning how the team will be readying for a match on turf in Aroostook County. “They know us very well, we know them very well. We need to prepare for every aspect of their game.”
The berth in a regional final is the first for the Penquis girls since the 2018 Patriots pulled off a run of three upsets in terms of seeds as that year’s No. 9 squad reached the Class C North championship at Fort Kent.
The last regional soccer title for the program came in 1984 when the Patriots won the Class B championship. The last regional championship for a Penquis team came in the 2012-13 basketball season as the Patriot boys won the Class C title.
SMALL SCHOOL NORTH
No. 1 Penquis 1, No. 4 Shead 0
SHE 0 0 0 0 – 0
PEN 0 0 0 1 – 1
Second OT: P — V. Chai (Conklin)
Saves: Penquis — Decker 10, Shead — Andrews 8
Corner kicks: Penquis — 9, Shead — 1
Records: Penquis 15-0, Shead 11-4-1