Avyn Willis wasn’t trying to score a goal.
In the final minutes of regulation in a scoreless battle with long-time rival Madison Central, the midfielder simply sent the ball up the field, hoping it might end up on the foot of one of her teammates.
“I was just trying to get (the ball) out of the back and get it up the field for someone else,” Willis said.
Something else, rather unexpected, happened.
The high, arching shot bounced right in front of the net and slid just under the crossbar, above the out-stretched hands of Central keeper Becca Gordon.
For a moment, Willis wasn’t sure what had happened.
“I saw it hit off her hands and I didn’t know if it had gone into the net or not,” Willis said.
And that goal propelled the Lady Eagles into the championship game of the 44th District Tournament for the fourth-straight year. Freshman keeper Claire Cress made two outstanding saves in the final seconds to secure a 1-0 win over Madison Central in Richmond.
Southern (6-3-1) will face Model Laboratory on Thursday in the title game.
The loss ended Central’s eight-year run of district championships.
“That was amazing. It was a great shot (by Avyn) and Claire made some great saves,” Southern coach Katy Cress said. “We are just counting down the final seconds, just hoping the clock would move faster. We were able to hold on.”
Willis scored with 1:22 left, but the Lady Indians battled back.
Central forward Kally Lloyd had several outstanding scoring chances in the second half. The sophomore was stopped at point-blank range by Cress with 14 minutes left.
She got another opportunity in the final seconds.
Lloyd ripped a shot that Cress was able to get a hand on.
“She kept coming on that side, but I wasn’t going to let her score on me,” the goalie said of Lloyd.
The drama wasn’t over.
The ball bounded off to the left, where Central’s Payton Ardery was waiting. Cress had to dive to make one last save before the buzzer sounded.
“It just bounced off my hand and I just thought, ‘I’m not letting this in. I’ve got to go get it,’” the goalie said.
The teams met once during the regular season, with Madison Central claiming a 3-2 win in Berea.
Central (4-9-1) and Southern had also faced each other in the district title game in each of the past three years.
This time, the championship game will feature two teams looking to break long championship droughts.
Model’s last title was in 2009.
Southern’s last title was in 2011.
“We are only half way there,” Cress said. “Model has been solid all season. I’m sure it will be another good game.”