LIMA — Almost immediately after Ontario’s Allie Atkinson scored the game’s first goal, Kalida traveled down the field and put a ball in the back of the net.
Only it wasn’t a goal. Instead, an official ruled the ball was knocked out of bounds prior to the kick.
The resulting corner kick was unsuccessful for the Wildcats, and suddenly everyone felt as though the game-deciding moment of the regional finals had just unfolded in front of them. And everyone was right.
That one goal that was taken away turned out to be the difference in a 2-1 Ontario victory in the Division III regional girls soccer final at Lima Stadium on Saturday, ending the Wildcats’ record-setting season at 19-1-1.
“We fought all the way to the end,” Kalida coach David Kehres said. “Everyone dreams of an opportunity to go to state, and there was no quit in these girls. They have no reason to hang their heads. They should be as proud as I am of what they have done for their school and for their teammates this season.”
It was just 10 minutes into the game when Atkinson got her big opportunity for the Warriors, kicking a ball just over the head of Kalida keeper Sarah Verhoff’s head and into the top left corner of the net. After the ensuing Kalida goal wasn’t allowed, Ontario again returned to its aggressiveness on offense. At the 19:20 mark in the first half, Taylor Elliot executed a header past Verhoff that gave her team a 2-0 lead, and set the tone for the rest of the game.
Kalida possessed the ball for the vast majority of the second half but couldn’t seem to get an open shot at the goal. Ontario seemed to snuff out every run, look and pass that could have led to a momentum-shifting goal.
“We didn’t capitalize on our opportunities,” Kehres said. “Ontario got two opportunities early, and they took advantage of them. In the second half, I think we played with a lot more confidence and trusted our teammates more. They showed a lot of heart in those last 40 minutes.”
This never-give-in mentality was captured best with one final play. With the game seemingly out of reach, freshman Brittany Kahle got the ball for Kalida and watched Ontario keeper Kimmy Barnhill come forward out of the net. With just four seconds on the clock, Kahle stormed ahead, sending a hard shot toward the goal just before colliding with Barnhill. Kahle aggravated a back injury with the goal.
Kalida will graduate five seniors, a loss Kehres says is bigger than some think.
“You’d like to think it’s a positive (only graduating five players),” Kehres said. “But those five seniors are irreplaceable. They’ve all been in this soccer program for four years, so they’ve put a lot of hard work into this team, as well as mentoring younger players. You can’t replace the experience they have.”