Courtesy of Perry Cooper Studio 318 Photography
Liberty midfielder Holly Strong gets off a free kick for the Hawks. She scored Liberty’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Edison in the Div. II title game.
FRESNO — When Liberty’s Holly Strong converted a late penalty kick in the Valley Championship game against Edison-Fresno, the game was tied 1-1 and just a few minutes away from heading to overtime.
The Liberty girls soccer team and the supporters who showed up in large numbers to McLane Stadium erupted in celebration after Strong scored the equalizer.
It was the goal they had been desperately seeking throughout the night. It was the break they needed for a chance to take down the same team that ended their title hopes in the semifinals a year ago.
Edison’s Abigail Borchers shattered that dream a couple of minutes later. Borchers broke away from the defense and converted a one-on-one opportunity against the goalkeeper, giving the Tigers a 2-1 win in the Central Section Div. II Championship game on Friday.
While the tears flowed on the faces of the Liberty players, head coach Erick Walker consoled him team with a message of encouragement.
“We’re a school of 560,” Walker said. “We’re competing against a school that has 2,500, we’re competing against a school that has 3,500. No one expects us, our little Div. 5 school, to be represented in Div. 2. I have nothing but respect for these girls.”
The Hawks fell behind 1-0 in the 23rd minute on a goal by Ariana Fischer. Still, the Tigers missed many more golden chances to add to the lead before halftime.
It was especially a frustrating first half for Borchers. The junior had a chance to expand the lead in the 33rd minute, but her shot from inside the box wasn’t strong enough to beat Liberty goalkeeper Carly Tynan.
Borchers dodged three defenders and launched a shot from the top of the box in the 35th minute, but the ball sailed over the bar.
After going into halftime down 1-0, the Hawks made adjustments and created more chances in the second half.
“Once we turned to our formation that we played with all year long, I think there was a confidence in them,” Walker said.
The Hawks got their break in the 69th minute when a handball in the box led to Strong’s penalty kick.
As she has done so many times before, the senior stayed calm in the big moment and delivered the equalizer.
“I zone everything out,” Strong said. “I can hear stuff, but I’m really good at staying calm in those situations.”
With the supporters on their feet, echoing words of encouragement, the Hawks desperately pushed for one more goal.
Strong almost answered the call in the 73rd minute, but her shot was blocked in the box.
As it turned out, it was Borcher who delivered a moment she will never forget.
It was ultimately the Tigers’ who erupted with jubilation as the final whistle blew. And it was the Hawks who had to lift each other off the field and wipe the tears away.
The loss was especially tough for the seniors, but they walked away feeling proud of the journey they had taken.
“Liberty has a great soccer program. I’m so happy to be a part of it,” Strong said. “This team has been the best team to work with. We started at our lowest point and we worked to get to this point. Just being here is amazing. Even to compete is a great feeling.”