Jackie Kitchen missed a golden opportunity; the soccer ball rolling to her and no one between her and Palmer Ridge goalie Kaylyn Smith. But Kitchen botched the shot and it trickled slowly into a diving Smith's hands.
Kitchen was immediately subbed off the field by Cheyenne Mountain coach Tomas Martinez. Kitchen's apologies were quickly brushed aside. Martinez informed her she was being taken off only to receive words of encouragement and a much-deserved breather.
Kitchen listened to that encouragement and remained focused, scoring with 8.6 seconds left to lock up the inaugural Pikes Peak Athletic Conference championship for the Indians with a 1-0 victory over the Bears.
'I don't think we were satisfied with a draw, ' Kitchen said. 'We had to get this, we had to win league. We had to show them we're ready for state. '
Pikes Peak region 4A No. 1 Cheyenne Mountain (10-2-1 overall, 6-0 PPAC) needed only a draw to win the title, but the Indians had plenty of chances to make it a win. The final chance came on a long ball toward the Palmer Ridge box. Three players collided for the ball, which bounced to Kitchen, who'd again found open space. On senior night, the senior calmly chipped the ball into a voided net.
'I definitely felt guilty, ' Kitchen said about the missed opportunity. 'I said, 'Coach, I tried, I didn't know I had time.' '
Martinez settled down his forward.
'I just wanted to talk to her and keep her positive, ' Martinez said. 'A lot of kids, they don't bury those and their head goes down. ... I said it (subbing her) has nothing to do with that, we need you connected to the game. '
Until that point, the 4A No. 2 Bears (10-3-1, 5-2) had played near-flawless defense. They'd given up a number of shots, but few threatening chances. The back line, which often numbered five as midfielders swarmed back, rarely lost shape.
'They (the defense) worked pretty hard, we were pretty solid throughout the whole game, ' said Smith, who finished with eight saves. 'We missed one header in the last 10 seconds. Besides that, I think we played well. '
For as good as the Bears' defense was, Cheyenne Mountain's was better. The Indians yielded just one shot on goal and dominated possession, limiting the Bears' counterattacking ability.
'They have so much speed up top, that counter is deadly, ' Martinez said.
Both teams had secured playoff berths before the game began after locking up the top two spots in the PPAC. It was just a matter of figuring out who would go in as the league champ.
The Indians were glad to win the crown. But they, like the Bears, are searching for more.
'I'm very happy to have that league title, ' Martinez said. 'But it's all about state championships for us. We've come close, we've had great teams. I think the adversity we've faced this year is going to make us better. '
Martinez's counterpart echoed that statement.
'League championships are nice, ' Bears coach Nick Odil said, 'state championships are better. '