Athletics

One goal gives Hillers first title - Firestone's free kick wins state final

MIDDLETOWN -- Tower Hill capped off a season of high promise with the best ending it could, winning its first girls soccer state title in school history by defeating Caesar Rodney 1-0 in the championship of the Delaware High School Girls Soccer Tournament at Appoquinimink High.

Grace Firestone scored in the 27th minute on a free kick from 25 yards.

Top seed Tower Hill (18-1) was playing in the final for the first time, closing the season with 10 straight wins. The Hillers started two freshmen and three sophomores, and the team had one senior, Jordan Bills, who started on defense.

 

All the signs pointed to good things happening in the Hillers' future, not its present, but why wait? Tower Hill went out and won it all, this year.

Bills started for the Hillers varsity in eighth grade, a season when they only won two games.

 

"I never thought this day would come," Bills said, "and I know everybody wanted this just as badly as me."

 

For No. 2 Caesar Rodney (18-1) it was another season that ended in heartache. Since 1999, the Riders have been no worse than a fourth seed in the state tournament all but once, when they were seeded fifth in 2003. In that span, they twice lost on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals (1999, 2001), suffered other tournament losses in a third overtime (2000) and a fourth overtime (2004).

 

The Riders are 87-8 in the last five seasons, five of those losses coming in the state tournament, including the 2007 title game, semifinal losses in '06 and '08, and a quarterfinal loss in overtime last season.

 

"I told them in the locker room," said Tower Hill  coach Garry Chandler, "this is the toughest team you're going to face all season. They're ... undefeated for a reason."

The Riders led 9-4 in shots and 7-0 in corner kicks.

 

"We had a ton of chances," Caesar Rodney coach Darrell Gravatt said. "You can't ask for much more than that. We did everything right except put a ball in the net. ... We had a lot of seniors. We thought we were going to win the game. We thought we had the best team in the state. It just didn't happen."

Over the first 15 minutes, Caesar Rodney senior Jazmine Reeves, named by the coaches as state player of the year for the third straight season, had three shots almost find the goal, including a shot at the far post in the 15th minute that rolled just wide.

Tower Hill just missed a couple times in the early going, too, including an opportunity in the 26th minute when Firestone crossed the ball to Kendal Robino about 30 yards from the goal.

Robino sent the ball forward toward Kaitlyn Rollins, who just entered the game four minutes earlier, but the Riders cut off the pass.

Firestone was fouled on an attack in the 27th minute, and the restart positioned her for a straight-on shot at the goal.

 

The junior sent the ball over the wall of the Caesar Rodney defenders and into the top, left corner of the net.

 

Chandler joked after the game just how often Firestone would hit the crossbar in those situations. Not this time.

 

"I have to attribute [that goal] to the coach," she said. "We practiced that every time from that range, and I finally pulled through when I needed it."

 

Caesar Rodney almost tied it not long after Firestone scored.

 

Reeves broke free right away on the restart and fired from 10 yards. Her ball struck high off the left post.

 

In the 35th minute, the Riders' Katie Rossi had a shot from 25 yards go just outside the post.

 

In the second half, Caesar Rodney had more close calls, but Tower Hill's plan to draw the Riders offsides as often as possible -- the Riders were offsides eight times -- proved to be effective.

 

Bills, junior Elise DeDominicis, sophomore Jennifer Cusak and junior Christie Pletz started on defense, with sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey O'Donnell making six saves.

 

"We knew that they were going to come straight on at us," Bills said, "so, our goal was either to drop off or switch up, and hold even with them. We knew they had speed up top, so our goal was to get them offsides or drop off and give them some space so we could beat them to the ball."

 

The Tower Hill midfield consisted of Firestone, a junior, and Robino, a freshman, freshman Hailey Lawler and junior Zoe Blake, with sophomore Kianna Collins rotating in for about five minutes in the second half.

 

"We didn't want this for ourselves, we didn't want this for our coach, we wanted this for our senior," said O'Donnell. "So, this is for her."

 

Said Bills: "I hope that they win another one in the next years."

Tower Hill 1, Caesar Rodney 0

Caesar Rodney 0 0-0

Tower Hill 1 0-1

First half-Firestone, TH, 27:00.

Shots-CR 9, TH 4. Corner kicks-CR 7, TH 0. Saves-CR 3 (Simpson), TH 6 (O'Donnell).

By BUDDY HURLOCK • The News Journal • June 5, 2010
Reprinted with permission of The News Journal
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