PATASKALA — It did not take long for Ellie Wright to put the magnitude of Wednesday’s girls soccer match into perspective.
Wright, the Licking Heights senior goalkeeper, bookended the match with lunging saves. In between, two second-half goals clinched the visiting Hornets’ 3-1 victory at Watkins Memorial, the program’s first in the rivalry.
“It’s so amazing. It’s probably the best memory of my high school years so far,” Wright said after a series of celebratory hugs and even a few tears were shed on the visitor’s sideline.
Heights (6-1, 4-0) had dropped one-goal matches to Watkins (3-1-2, 2-1) each of the last two seasons. This time, the Hornets got over the hump and — if all goes well between now and then — could play Granville an LCL title Oct. 5.
That is a month away. First things first as sophomore Emma French scored on a breakaway with 14:31 left, and the Hornets did it again five minutes later after Watkins had trimmed the lead to 2-1.
“It feels great to finally beat them and work as a team,” French said. “We came off a really rough last game losing (5-0 to Worthington Christian). We worked really hard these last few days and brought it to the field.”
Wright’s first clutch save of the night came 14 minutes in on Watkins senior Jaylyn Thornton. The match remained scoreless deep into the half with talent battling for every possession on both sides, including Watkins freshman Keira McKittrick against Heights sophomore Evelyn Caruso and Watkins junior Zoey Thompson and Heights sophomore Addison Caudill.
Watkins earned a corner kick with 13 minutes left in the half, but Heights senior Savanna Cronin cleared the ball with a header. She then raced 100 yards to the other end, tracked down a lead pass from French, eluded a defender and scored from the right side.
“(Trailing) is something we are not used to,” Watkins coach Ben Schenko said. “It’s tough when you have a team that is on the rise and has the talent and athletes that they have. You can’t dig yourself a hole.”
French added, “Just giving (Cronin) that ball and feeling that sigh of relief when she put it in the back of the net, it was great.”
Heights led the rest of the way. Thornton and sophomore Kiley Jones-Barrera, who scored the Warriors’ lone goal, put constant pressure on the Hornets as the Warriors hit the crossbar twice late.
The Heights defense, though, was up to the task. Junior Zoe Kubinsky and sophomore Elizabeth Killey, a pair of co-captains helped protect Wright as did seniors Cronin and Ella Arnold frequently dropping back from the midfield.
“(The early save) brought me up so much and helped me throughout the entire game,” Wright said. “The defenders close down the other players and just help me so much. It wasn’t just me that saved those goals. It was them that contributed, too.”
Watkins is hoping to win at least a piece of a third consecutive LCL title. For that to happen, the Warriors must get help and win the rest of their LCL matches, including beating the Blue Aces in the season finale on Oct. 12.
“As long you learn, mistakes are OK,” Schenko said. “If we learn from these mistakes, it will be worth it. That’s hopefully where we are.”
Following the match, several players from each team posed together for a photo. The players were current and past members of the local club PFC Extreme.
On Wednesday, it was a celebration of Pataskala soccer. Heights now has a leg up for the first time.
“It means the world to them. It means the world to me to be able send (the seniors) off with this kind of landmark win,” Heights coach Mickey Cronin said. “A lot of these girls are friends, too, but it’s nice the friends on our side have the bragging rights for a year. My heart’s full, and I couldn’t be prouder of our girls.”
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Licking Heights grabs first girls soccer win against Watkins Memorial