The Venice Indians girls soccer team was prepared for a battle in the 4A District-11 championship on Thursday night, and they got exactly what they were expecting.
Braden River (9-6-2) hung neck-and-neck with Venice all night long, but a goal by freshman Victoria Gaona in the 23rd minute proved to be all the Lady Indians would need — holding on for a 1-0 win and the district title at Powell-Davis Stadium.
“Toward the end, it was (nerve-wracking),” Venice coach Gary Bolyard said. “You just hate those one-goal games because one bad mistake and a goal could happen and you’re sitting there tied again.
“We possessed the ball a lot of the game, but we didn’t capitalize on those shots. But we won, 1-0, and we’re district champs. That’s one of our goals that we set.”
After resting players for Tuesday night’s district semifinals matchup against Charlotte, the Indians pulled no punches against the Pirates.
Though Venice (17-0-1) thoroughly outshot Braden River, 23-8, Gaona’s goal off a deflection from a shot by Kat Jordan proved to be the difference.
“I never would have imagined that we got here, and I never could have done it without my teammates,” Gaona said. “Every single play, every single pass all goes together. That one opportunity, I was there because of them. There’s no other way I could have done it.”
The Pirates recorded just four shots in the first half, with no shots on goal, but played impassioned defense on the Indians — stopping several near-goals in the box.
Mason Schilling broke through the Pirates’ back line of defense twice in the first half, but was stopped by the Braden River goalkeeper on each attempt. Jordan also had another look at a goal, but was also denied at the last second.
For the Pirates, the effort they put into containing the Indians seemed to take away from their ability to apply offensive pressure.
The first shot on goal for Braden River came in the 56th minute off a free kick, and was promptly followed up by another free kick that was placed in the box, but Venice goalkeeper Ashton Pennell thwarted both attempts.
“(It was) definitely a different strategy,” Pirates coach Nicole Paternostro said. “We looked a little bit more at some of their key players.
“Last time we played them, we had players hurt who were back for this game, so that definitely made a difference. But yeah, we tried to pack it in and stop the through balls. We played another man on defense and hoped that we could stop the force.”
The Pirates held the Indians in check for much of the second half, allowing just three shots on goal after giving up nine in the first 40 minutes.
Following their two free kicks in the 56th minute, the Pirates’ last chance to score came on another free kick with just five minutes remaining. The ball floated into the Indians’ box and stayed on the ground — pinballing between players’ legs until it was finally cleared.
After that late opportunity for Braden River, Venice controlled the ball for the final few minutes until the whistle sounded and the Indians sprinted to a huddle at midfield — jumping up and down with glee as the district championship trophy was given to them.
With district play now officially over, both Braden River and Venice will continue on to represent 4A District-11 in the 4A Region-3 playoffs.
And if both teams keep playing at the level they did on Thursday night, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them face off for a fourth and final time in the regional final.
“We’re telling our girls that we’re gonna see them in the regional final,” Paternostro said. “Now we know what to expect in the final. It was a well-fought game by our girls. A 1-0 loss to a very good team is almost a win for us. We fought hard and had good opportunities, we just didn’t have it this time.”