Pelham girls win area title, remain undefeated this season

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HELENA – Trailing two defenders, Taylor Pilcher watched as the ball sailed just over their heads and took a bounce. The Pelham Panthers’ forward waited for her moment, then pounced.

She split through both defenders, who slightly backed off with the keeper coming toward the ball, and took a kick at the ball. It deflected off the legs of the Helena goalkeeper, but Pilcher didn’t give up on the play in a tie game with 9:56 left and the area championship on the line.

She made a quick move around the keeper and slid into a kick just feet from the goal with the keeper diving after the ball. Her slide kick was just enough to fire a ball into the back of the net for what became the game winner in a 2-1 rivalry win.

Players immediately surrounded her with celebratory hugs and screams as the victory kept the Panthers perfect on the season, improving their record to 14-0, and cemented their first area title in more than 20 years to give them home field advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

It also capped off an exciting rivalry battle between the two teams.

Helena entered the game 4-1 in area play this season with the lone loss a 4-0 match against Pelham on March 17.

The Huskies, however, would have still been alive for the area title with a win.

In the first few minutes, however, Pelham got off to an ideal start with a goal in the first five minutes of the game after a battle for a loose ball in front of the net that eventually squeaked past the keeper.

From there, however, the Huskies looked like a team motivated to still have a chance at the title.

They controlled the ball for the majority of the first half and got a shot on goal with 24:13 left that ended with a great save.

The Huskies got a few more chances, but never found a clear opening in the first half for a goal.

That changed early in the second half, as Helena started like Pelham did the first half.

After controlling the ball much of the opening half, the Huskies continued to do so early in the second half and it paid off quickly when Bailee Washington found a sliver of space in a tight battle for the ball that she slid past the keeper into the left side of the net for an equalizer with 36 minutes to play.

But Pelham responded.

The Panthers got a corner with 21 minutes to play, a free kick with 18:35 to play and then forced a cluster in front of the net with 15 minutes to play.

None of them ended in a goal, but the pressure was mounting.

Helena did get one more good look when Washington got another breakaway opportunity, but the Pelham keeper made a great save with 12:30 left to keep the game tied.

Three minutes later, Pelham capitalized with Pilcher’s game-winning goal to end an exciting matchup.

With the loss, Helena fell to 4-2 in area play but has already locked up a spot in the postseason as the two seed from the area.