By Dave Malaska
CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. – Lauren Daly's point-blank goal off a Brooklyn Rivers cross in the third minute of extended play Wednesday night lifted Highlands to a 2-1 win over Ryle and into this weekend's Region 9 title game.
The goal completed the Bluebirds' rally after trailing, 1-0, with less than six minutes left in regulation.
Earlier, Rivers collected a rebound off junior Taylor Vaughn's free kick from the side, tipping it past Ryle keeper Breanna Collins with 5:53 left to send the game into sudden-death extra periods. Then, the sophomore served up the game-winner with 1:23 left in the first 5-minute extra period.
With teammate Alyssa Farley dribbing up the middle, Rivers set up of the left side to take the pass.
"We played it down the line a lot tonight, but I had trouble getting around the defense. I told Alyssa if we had another chance, play it to my feet," said Rivers as the celebration continued after the game. "I gathered it, turned and saw (Daly) going right at the goal, so I sent it to her and she finished it."
Daly, a senior midfielder, said the play evolved so quickly it was hard to process it at the time.
"Brooklyn is always very good at getting the ball up the field. It's my job as an outside mid to get that cross when she sends it. The ball was in the goal before I had time to think about it," Daly said. "I was being tackled by the girls before it really hit me that the ball went in".
The teams played to a scoreless stalemate in the first half, but Ryle went up early after the break on its second penalty kick goal in as many games. The Raiders beat St. Henry, 1-0, Monday on a penalty kick for an inadvertent handball.
On Wednesday, it was a tripping call against Highlands just within the box that set up the penalty shot in front of goal. Raiders senior Jill Davenport drilled the ball into he back corner of the goal past keeper Sarah Owen for the Ryle lead.
Over the next few minutes, the Raiders dominated the flow of the game and kept the pressure of the Bluebirds' defense and looked to be in position for the win.
Bluebirds coach Tommy Kearns said his staff preaches not letting emotion take over a game.
Sometimes, like on Wednesday, that's easier said than done. It even works in your favor.
"We try to to emphasize no matter what the situation is in the game don't too high, don't get too low. Just stay focused. That's difficult, especially in the postseason when it's win or go home," said Kearns. "We knew it was going to be a tough game with Ryle. They're strong. Fortunately, we got the win."
Owen collected six saves in goal for the Bluebirds as Highlands outshot the Raiders, 13-9. Freshman phenom Hannah Poe had four saves for Ryle before moving to the field for the second half.
Highlands' win sets up the regional final on Saturday against Notre Dame Academy, the winner of Wednesday's late game. The teams met twice this season, with the Pandas winning 3-0 on Aug. 29 and the Bluebirds emerging with the 2-1 shootout win in September in the Lexington Catholic Cup.
Their third meeting, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday back at Dixie Heights High School, will determine the regional champion.
Kearns said it should be a tight match.
"If you're in the regional final in this area of the state, you're doing something right. We'll take it," he said.
HALFTIME: 0-0. GOALS: H—Rivers, Daly. R—Davenport. RECORDS: Highlands 8-7-5, Ryle 14-5-1.