TULSA — Aubrey Gonzales sprinted down the field like a well-oiled offensive machine.
Verdigris goalkeeper Maddy Barnes saw the junior coming, but with three defenders between the Lady Reds phenom and the goal, she wasn't panicked quite yet.
However, Gonzales outran Maribel Shaddix along the west sideline and made a beeline toward the goal.
She then sidestepped a stationary Faith Weiesnbach and avoided a steal attempt from Megan Turner.
Realizing the threat level had risen to critical in a matter of moments, Barnes closed in on Gonzales, spreading her arms out wide to limit the shot space.
"I knew I had to step into it," Barnes said, "but I was just too far away from the pole."
Gonzales' right-footed shot squeezed between Barnes' right arm and the goalpost, finishing in the middle-right side of the net.
That score, which gave Clinton a one-goal advantage with 1:50 remaining in the second half, was the second for Gonzales and served as the game-winner.
The Lady Reds went on to claim a 3-1 victory over Verdigris for the Class 4A state championship at the University of Tulsa’s Hurricane Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Ariana Borjas scored the insurance goal early in the second half, ensuring Clinton's second title in three years.
Gonzales first showed off her ambidextrous skillset at the 15:37 mark in the first half when she, off her left foot, hooked a curling free kick from the right side of the 18-yard box to the far post from about 20 yards out.
"She's a good little player," Verdigris coach Stacia Risenhoover said of Gonzales. "She's got a lot of speed and can handle the ball."
Lauren Bulcroft answered Clinton’s opening goal with a right-to-left strike of her own six minutes later, lobbing an off-balanced shot through traffic and over the goalkeeper’s head for her 30th goal of the season and sixth of the playoffs.
The loss vanquished the Lady Cardinals' quest for a second-straight state championship, ending the team's 12-game winning streak in the process.
Coincidentally, Verdigris’ last loss, which came to Enid on March 28, resulted in a 3-1 decision in a tournament setting.
Tears filled the eyes of several Verdigris players as Clinton (17-2) hoisted the state-championship trophy in the background, but Risenhoover assured them there is no shame in finishing runner-up.
“I just told them that there’s not many teams that make it this far in the first place,” Risenhoover said. “We’re just really proud of them for making it this far. They improved every game we played, and it maybe wasn’t our best effort in this game. We just never really got in our groove, and we didn’t really mesh as a team quite good enough.”
One competitor who took the loss hard was senior Aubrey Lechlider.
Lechlider, who will play collegiately at Tulsa next season, said she is excited for what her future holds at the next level, but she’s also mourning the end of her high school career.
Lechlider’s senior class accumulated a 56-20 record during its time at Verdigris, competing for three state titles along the way. The Lady Cardinals won the championship in 2016.
“It’s still just sad knowing I’m not going to be with these girls for the next four years,” Lechlider said. “It’s been my life. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m ready to start my next chapter.”
Although Verdigris (14-6) will undoubtedly miss Lechlider’s contributions, there is no reason to expect a drop-off in the program’s talent come 2020.
The Lady Cardinals return their entire midfield, highlighted by Abigail Teal, Turner and the Darden sisters, Kayla and Kylee.
That’s not even including Bulcroft at the forward position, defender Weiesnbach and midfielder Barnes, who filled in at goalkeeper before the quarterfinals against Ft. Gibson after Jaysan Gibson became ill and was forced to miss the remainder of the season.
“We have to commend everyone who steps on the field and gives their effort,” Risenhoover said.
“We’re looking forward to next year.”