The Brentsville Tigers graduated from the state semifinals Friday.
That seems to be the most apt description of their 1-0 win over Blacksburg during the Class 4A girls soccer tournament at Salem High. Because shortly after the victory, they boarded a bus for a three-and-a-half hour ride back to Nokesville so they can attend Brentsville's high school graduation ceremony, which will be Saturday morning.
The Tigers will then travel again to Salem for the 5 p.m. state final Saturday at Roanoke College against Western Albemarle.
“This is a big opportunities for us,” Brentsville senior Jillian Wright said about advancing to the title game. “It just feels really good.”
Tigers coach Sonny Barrickman hopes his nine seniors will arrive back in Roanoke by 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
“You can't ask your kids not to go to graduation,” he said. “It's a big part of their life.”
Those seniors, meanwhile, are a big part of Brentsville's 18-3-2 record this season, but freshman Madeline Bohan scored the winning goal Friday against the Bruins (17-3-1) from a seemingly impossible angle along the left side of the end line with 33 minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the second half.
Bohan received a pass from Morgan Pettit and actually wanted to cross the ball to striker Maria Mendo in the center of the field. But Bohan instead struck the bouncing ball with her knee, so it spun around Blacksburg goalkeeper Kinsey Verbrugge, who stood guarding the left post, and trickled it into the net near the right post.
“Only you could have done that,” Wright later said to Bohan. “I was like, 'Someone please hit it in.' And then it just went in the back corner” by itself.
“It just worked out perfectly,” said Bohan, who got the shot off between a pair of defenders.
She has turned into the Tigers' leading scorer this season with 12 varsity goals after moving up from junior varsity following Brentsville's third game.
“She finds a way to score,” Barrickman said. “I don't know how she does it.”
Blacksburg coach Travis Eschenmann couldn't tell how Bohan scored, either.
“It makes you scratch your head a little bit, but that's soccer,” he said. “You let your guard down for 30 seconds, and a team makes you pay for it.
“One goal will do it,” Eschenmann said. “It's a pretty punishing game like that.”
“It has to be a killer for a keeper,” he said. “She was in the right position.
“But if that ball didn't go in, Maria's standing there,” he said of Mendo, a sophomore forward. “I'll put my two young kids up against anybody one-on-one.”
With Bohan's goal, Blacksburg's incredible run of three-consecutive state championships ended Friday.
“It's a blessing that the expectations are high,” Eschenmann said. “You want kids that expect to win. ... The downside to that, of course, is when you don't, it's extra heartbreaking.”
Regardless, Eschenmann easily found appreciation for the Bruins' success this spring, especially because they played with only one senior.
“We can't hang our heads too low,” he said. “It's a lot to be proud of.”
Since early in the 2014 season, the Bruins have amassed an 80-3-2 record. That streak includes a 2-0 win over Brentsville during the 2015 state semifinals, which a few of the Tigers remembered vividly as they entered the rematch Friday.
“They have thought about this game for two years,” Barrickman said. “They wanted to play Blacksburg today.
“After the game,” he said, “I'm not sure they [were glad they played] Blacksburg.”
That's because the Bruins out-shot Brentsville, 10-2, in the second half while frequently threatening to tie the score during the final 15 minutes.
“We were tired. They had us on our heels,” Barrickman said. “For the last 25 minutes, I don't think I took a breath. I just kept hoping: 'Run, clock, run.'”
The Tigers' defense held strong with Wright anchoring it along with follow center back Olivia Simmons and outside backs Megan Garman and Cheyney Hite.
“It was definitely nerve-racking,” Wright said, “but I think it just shows the strength our team has.”
Brentsville goalkeeper Charlotte Davis aided that effort by punching away a couple of balls on corner kicks. She also had three of her four saves during the second half.
Wright and Garman were also starters on the 2015 Brentsville team that lost to Blacksburg in the state semifinals, so revenge was especially sweet for them Friday.
“Huge,” Wright said. “Means everything. Pretty sure in the last four years we've kind of put Brentsville on the map a little bit.”
Over the past three seasons, the Tigers have accumulated a 48-11-4 record, including a 10-game winning streak entering the state final Saturday.
An injury to sophomore center back Catharine Frost threatened to end that run against the Bruins. Frost tried to play Friday with a high ankle sprain suffered during the Tigers' run to the 3A East Region championship, but Barrickman pulled her out of the game early in the first half. He replaced her at center back with Simmons, usually an outside midfield starter.
“Catharine's our teams' most valuable player,” Barrickman said. “And Olivia got in there and never missed a beat.”
Simmons made a handful of vital defensive stops Friday, and her performance seemed to surprise no one.
“I trust her with anything,” said Wright, a two-time Conference 28 Player of the Year. “Liv is kind of the person that we trust to go anywhere.”
Simmons didn't mind her shift to center back, either.
“I know my teammates got my back,” she said. “I have so much fun playing with these girls.”