VERDIGRIS — After getting tripped in the 18-yard box, Aubrey Lechlider could’ve easily taken the glory of scoring a penalty kick.
She instead turned to Abigail Teal to take the shot, and the junior didn’t squander the gifted opportunity.
“Aubrey likes penalty kicks, but any time there’s a penalty kick, the first person she turns around and looks for is me because she knows I’ll go up and do it,” Teal said. “The nerves are always there, but I’ve taken penalty kicks in pressure situations for all my life, so it’s like second nature for me.”
Teal proved that statement less than seven minutes into the game, dinking her shot off the crossbar and into the net at the 33:14 mark to give Verdigris an early advantage.
That was just the beginning for Teal and the Lady Cardinals, though.
She would go on to assist two more goals as Verdigris cruised past Harrah for a 4-2 victory in the Class 4A semifinals at Cardinals Stadium on Tuesday night, sending the Lady Cardinals to their ninth state title game appearance in 11 seasons.
Verdigris (14-5) will face either Clinton or Skiatook for the Class 4A crown at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the University of Tulsa.
Lady Cardinals coach Stacia Risenhoover has been an integral part of the program’s seven state championships, and she said she is grateful for the continued success.
“I’m very blessed to have such great players come through the program,” Risenhoover said. “We just preach to them a lot about staying with good character and coming out and playing as hard as you can.”
Teal was at it again later in the first half, sending a deep pass to Lauren Bulcroft, who outran a Lady Panthers defender and outmaneuvered another before tapping the ball into the bottom right corner of the net at the 7:29 mark.
Harrah’s Malia Maple trimmed the deficit with a deep shot with just over four minutes remaining in the half, but that momentum didn’t last long.
Teal then returned the favor to Lechlider with a well-placed corner kick, and the Tulsa signee used her head to flawlessly flick the ball into the net only 13 seconds before the halftime buzzer.
It was Lechlider’s only goal of the match, and Teal was ecstatic about assisting the senior in her final game at Cardinals Stadium.
“This is Aubrey’s last time out here, so we wanted to make this for her in her last home game,” Teal said. “I just did what I could to make our team successful.”
Bulcroft capped off the Lady Cardinals’ scoring at the 32:51 mark in the second half, nestling the ball in the top left of the net to extend the lead to 4-1.
Lechlider was open across the middle and was calling for the ball, but Bulcroft shrugged off the defensive pressure and launched a shot anyway.
It paid off.
“I thought I had it on goal, but I thought it was going straight to (the goalkeeper), and it slid right past her,” Bulcroft said. “I got so lucky with that because I didn’t think it was going to go in.”
It began raining late in the second half, and Harrah’s Taylor Tanksley took advantage of a wet ball that slipped through the hands of goalkeeper Morgan Bennett, bringing the score to 4-2 with 10:41 remaining.
The Lady Panthers (15-4) gave up 10 regulation goals during the season, surrendering only one in their previous 10 games coming into Tuesday.
Risenhoover said she wasn’t expecting to have so much success against a strong defensive team like Harrah, but she was hoping for it.
However, like many times in her coaching career, her hopes became reality.
“You just never know, especially when they’re on the other side of the state, and you don’t get to see those teams,” Risenhoover said. “You just have to stay in your element, and hopefully that’s good enough to get the win.”