FERNLEY — Eventually, somebody had to score.
In an evenly matched, back-and-forth state championship clash between Division III powers Incline and Whittell on Saturday, neither team could muster a goal through 80 minutes of physical, high-caliber action.
The game would have to be settled in overtime.
The defending state champion Highlanders, who battled through two overtime periods before edging North Tahoe in a penalty shootout the night before, did not want to repeat that marathon performance.
They didn’t have to.
Nine minutes into the sudden-death overtime period, Incline sophomore Vanessa Andrade slid to save a ball from going out along the Whittell baseline.
Not only did the talented forward keep the ball alive, she sent it directly to the front of the goal, where a streaking Caitlin May hit it into the back of the net, sending Incline players and fans into a frenzy.
“I saw Vanessa was open, and I saw an opening. I just tried my best to keep it low, and it all worked out in the end,” May said, deflecting credit to her teammate. “It was a great cross by Vanessa.”
“My heart,” said Incline coach Tom Canino. “They’re going to kill me. But hats off to Whittell. They came to play today. I have nothing but respect for the game they played.”
Canino said the Highlanders got off to a sluggish start in large part because of their shootout thriller against the Lakers in the semifinal round.
Their goal of claiming a second consecutive Division III state title simply outweighed the fatigue.
“I think we had stiff legs from our double-overtime game against North Tahoe last night. We had to shake off the stiffness, and then it was end-to-end action,” Canino said.
The game would not have remained scoreless through regulation had it not been for the clutch play of both teams’ standout senior goalies — Incline’s Sarah Wright and Whittell’s Brittany Boulet — both of whom made several deft saves.
“Boulet had the best game I’ve ever seen her play. And Sarah did the same thing,” Canino said.
The Warriors, the only Division III team to defeat the Highlanders during the season, came out with vengeance after falling to Incline, 2-1, in the regional championship the week before.
They pressured Wright and the Incline defense off the bat, putting together promising runs as forwards Kenya Maltase and Jenny Shepack nearly scored on several occasions.
But Wright was up to the task — as were senior defenders Kerrie Tonking and Misha Gehring — and Whittell never found net.
Meanwhile, Incline was finding its legs. The Highlanders began possessing and piecing together runs of their own late in the first half and into the second.
Andrade almost gave Incline a lead on at least three chances. She sent a blast off the crossbar late in the first half, while Boulet snatched the ball out of the air on two of her attempts in the second half.
“I thought at times our communication broke down,” Whittell coach Patrick Kelly said. “The first half we were moving the ball well and communicating well. We kind of lost that in the second half. But I’m proud of the way the girls conducted themselves.”
May’s overtime goal marked the second time the junior scored the game-winner against the Warriors. It came after taking a beating during regulation, as May was knocked to the turf and shaken up more than once.
“She’s a solid player,” Canino said. “She’s become a great goal-scorer late in games.”
Incline players were all smiles following an award ceremony at midfield after the game.
“I’m really excited,” Wright said. “We’ve been preparing for Whittell for awhile, and we had a game plan set. It was sketchy for a bit, but we knew our forwards would get it done.”
“I think overall we played one of our strongest games,” said senior forward Elise Nelson. “It came down to who had more left.”
Both Wright and Nelson, who are among Incline’s seven seniors, said they will miss playing — and even practicing — alongside their Highlander teammates.
“Not only do I love the game, but I love the girls I play with,” Nelson said. “I grew up with them, so it’s sad not to play with them anymore.”
In their semifinal against North Tahoe, Andrade scored a goal in regulation, while Tonking, Kimberly May, Andrade and Caroline May scored in the shootout.
Incline, which graduates Wright, Nelson, Gehring, Tonking, Caroline May, Kortney Solis and Aundria Williams, finished the season 16-1-1 against the Division III.
Whittell, which loses seven seniors, finished 15-3-0 in Division III play.