Late header lifts Bobcats to overtime victory in season opener
Maybe Shae Sawalich's hat had a little magic in it, a la Frosty the Snowman. Then again, the hat was light green and the Lady Bobcats' game ended just hours before St. Patrick's Day arrived, so maybe it was the luck of the Irish.
Whatever it was, Sawalich and her hat were in the right place at the right time and the junior was the hero in her first high school soccer game. Sawalich put in a header in overtime to give the Lady 'Cats a 3-2 victory over Cair Paravel.
"Shae's one of our new players, she actually hasn't played soccer before," BLHS coach Kevin Vincent said. "She's a very coachable player and she just followed her instructions to a tee."
Sawalich also had an assist in the game, matching the performance of her more experienced teammate, Jessica Smith. Smith scored on a penalty kick in the second half and provided the assist on Sawalich's game-winner.
The Lady Bobcats needed help from every player on their roster to take the season opener. Cair Paravel featured a few talented midfielders and stout defenders, but it was the weather more than anything that held down Basehor-Linwood.
The temperature was hovering around freezing with a stiff, bitter wind gusting throughout the match.
Cair Paravel very nearly seized the first lead in the game's 20th minute. There was a scrum in front of the net and the ball got behind BLHS goalie Kori Roberts. Just when it looked like it would roll into the net, midfielder Shanna Couch swooped in and cleared it off the line, saving a goal.
Ten minutes later Sawalich tipped a ball in the box over to Brittney Ewan, who buried it for the game's first score.
In the second half, with the Lady 'Cats leading 1-0, the wind changed the complexion of the game.
The first change came just five minutes after halftime, when Cair Paravel executed a perfect cross and tap-in.
BLHS regained control and cashed in at the 58-minute mark, courtesy of Smith. The all-league sophomore made an inspired run along the left sideline, beating several defenders before getting taken down in the box. She calmly buried the ensuing penalty kick.
Down 2-1, Cair Paravel looked beaten, but their seventh corner kick of the half gave the squad new life. A forward took the kick and lofted it skillfully into the far corner. With just five minutes left, the Topeka girls had evened the score.
But the Bobcats held on until the end of regulation and then switched sides, getting to go with the wind in overtime. Vincent said he knew it would be a significant advantage.
"Oh man, we were definitely on our heels when we were going into the wind, but when we had the wind we were able to dominate," Vincent said. "They were a great team, but with the wind, I think it definitely equalized a lot of things."
Minutes into the overtime, the Bobcats ended the game. Smith juked her way down the left side again and lofted a perfect cross in front of the net. Sawalich held off a defender and the ball glanced off her hat and into the upper-right corner.