VERDIGRIS — With the game tied and time running out, the nerves hit Lauren Bulcroft hard.
The sophomore had never experienced a loss in the postseason. Her only playoffs experience resulted in a state championship.
However, when Bulcroft saw Aubrey Lechlider running toward her while straddling the end line, her innate soccer instincts took over.
From about 11 yards out, Bulcroft struck Lechlider’s ensuing pass with venom, sending the ball over the goalkeeper’s head and into the top middle of the net.
Bulcroft’s dagger with 7:39 remaining in the second half proved to be the difference, giving Verdigris a 2-1 win over Ft. Gibson in the Class 4A quarterfinals at Cardinals Stadium on Saturday evening.
“It was incredibly nerve-wracking, and I hit it as fast as I could before they got to me,” Bulcroft said. “There was no way (the goalkeeper) was catching it.”
Lechlider’s assist was a nice payoff to the Lady Cardinals’ first goal of the game when the senior collected an impressive through ball from Bulcroft, nestling a shot perfectly in the bottom right corner of the net at the 12:55 mark in the first half.
The University of Tulsa signee said she and Bulcroft routinely lean on each other to make big plays in crucial situations, and that especially comes in handy during the playoffs.
That support system has allowed the pair to combine for six of Verdigris’ nine goals during the current postseason run.
For Bulcroft and Lechlider, it’s all about staying calm and composed in stressful situations.
“That’s all these goals are in the playoffs,” Lechlider said. “You get one chance, and if you don’t finish that chance, you might not move on to the next round. We know that, and that’s why we’re still moving on.”
Ft. Gibson’s Keelia Hazelwood tied the game with a well-placed ball at the 27-minute mark in the second half, but despite the Lady Tigers’ added pressure, Verdigris coach Stacia Risenhoover never lost confidence in her team.
She credited the Lady Cardinals’ win to their refusal to give up more ground after the game-tying strike.
“It was absolutely stressful throughout,” Risenhoover said. “You never can let up when you play a team as good as Ft. Gibson, and we knew coming in they’d be one of the best teams we’ve played all year.”
The optimism rubbed off on Lechlider, who said she never doubted whether the game was in hand.
After all, Verdigris didn’t get to averaging nearly five goals per game by relenting in the face of adversity.
“I felt like we had enough time,” Lechlider said. “We’re definitely a second-half team, and our girls rally. None of us want to lose, and we always dig deep. I wasn’t too worried. I felt like we would get one, and we did.”
The Lady Cardinals (13-5) can earn their third title-game appearance in four years with a win over Harrah in the semifinals at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The Lady Panthers defeated Cache, 1-0, in the quarterfinals.
Lechlider hasn’t played Harrah since her freshman year, but she remembers that game all too well. The Lady Panthers emerged with a 2-0 victory, claiming the 2016 Class 4A state title in the process.
She now finally has her chance at redemption.
“We are a new team, they are a new team and I’m ready to play them on Tuesday,” Lechlider said. “I’m ready for a revenge game.”