She didn’t even realize that the game was on the line.
But Indian River High School senior Aline Check-Guzman would find that out soon enough when she stepped up for the fourth of a potential five penalty-kick opportunities, buried a ricochet shot off Tower Hill keeper Morgan Rollins’ fingertips and was rushed by a slew of fired-up teammates.
“I did not know that was gonna be the goal. My main goal was just to shoot the ball in the goal. That was my main focus,” said Check-Guzman after netting the shot that gave the Indians a 4-1 quarterfinal win over the Hillers.
“It was awesome. I can’t describe the feeling. I’m just so excited, because from the beginning of the season we’ve been talking about this, and we’re doing it.”
After receiving a bye for Round 1 of the DIAA quarterfinals, the Indians automatically advanced to the matchup against No. 8 Tower Hill, held at Dover High School on Thursday, May 26.
However, after being tested for 60 minutes, with the goalless game heading into a first, then second, scoreless overtime, it was clear that their No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to translate to an easy win.
“Look — it’s the tournament,” said head coach Steve Kilby. “Everybody knows that if you don’t win, you’re done.
“They were very well organized and very well coached, but they know what the finality is of this type of game. They weren’t gonna come out here and lay down for us.”
The two teams traded missed scoring chances during regulation and were kept off the board by several key saves from Rollins and IR sophomore keeper Fabrea McCray.
While overtime appeared to give the Indians an edge, two more near misses kept the game even.
That’s when the game would go down to PKs.
And to set the tone, the Indians would bring out their leading scorer: senior captain Brooke Beam.
“We went with what we felt would be the most successful shooters, with the idea that the more goals you’re scoring on a penalty kick shootout, the more pressure your putting on the other shooters, knowing that they’ve gotta finish,” explained Kilby of the strategy.
Kilby’s philosophy looked to hold some weight when Beam stepped up and, without hesitation, sent a casual shot rolling to the right post, leaving Rollins standing there, frozen.
But after going up 1-0, it was up to McCray to keep it that way, stepping up to the plate for her first time in a PK situation.
“I had faith in [the team],” said McCray. “Before we started the PKs, I got down and I prayed. I had faith in my girls. I knew that all season long they’ve had faith in me, so I believe in them as well.”
With a well-placed read, McCray would force a missed shot, sending out IR junior forward Maddie Hogsten.
With 25 goals on the season already, Hogsten’s most important to date would come with some redemption, after a missed opportunity at the end of the second OT, as she stepped up to make it 2-0.
After the Indians gave up a score, sophomore forward Sammi Whelen answered right back, to make it 3-1.
Then, after a Tower Hill miss, Check-Guzman would put it away, sending her teammates into an uproar and the Indians into the semi-finals.
“We knew that teams were gonna aim for us because we’re the No. 1 seed,” said McCray of the close game. “They were gonna play hard, and we were gonna play even harder.”
After the game, Kilby put the rest of the playoffs in perspective for his team.
“It’s a three-game season,” he said. “One game’s out of the way.”