By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Daily Sun
A patch of grass, a sliver of daylight.
That’s all Trudi Carter needs.
She’s that fast, that dangerous. She got that quicksilver first step, but what they love about Carter at Navarro College is that last step, that thunder in her foot.
It was there Thursday afternoon, showing up just in time — with a goal with less than three minutes left in regulation — to save Navarro from defeat and force a 1-1 tie with Tyler Junior College that felt almost as a good as a win to the kids and coaches at Navarro.
“Almost,’’ said Navarro Coach Debbie Bonner. “I really wanted to win, but it’s almost as good.’’
It’s like a win because the tie means if Navarro beats Paris this weekend the Bulldogs would host both rounds of the postseason region tournament next week. Had Tyler won, both rounds would have been in Tyler. Navarro gets the first-seed because the Bulldogs beat Tyler earlier at Tyler and are 1-0-1 against the Apaches, who needed to win Thursday to have a chance to host both rounds next week.
If Tyler and Navarro win this weekend, Tyler will be the No. 2 seed and host a game on Thursday, and if Tyler and Navarro win their opening games in the region tournament, the title game would be in Corsicana on Nov. 3.
That’s what Carter’s goal meant to Navarro, which will probably hold on to its No. 1 ranking in the nation with a tie against Tyler, which is ranked No. 4 in the country.
It was a national showdown and it looked and felt like one all afternoon, two great teams with the ebb-and-flow of a title bout, rising and falling as the game stretched into a sudden death overtime and didn’t end until the sun was setting and shadows stretched across the field, where both teams walked off exhausted.
Both teams had chances in overtime, and the Apaches laced two shots that had game-winner written on them in the final minute of OT, but Navarro’s Kenia Medina, who made a dozen saves including eight highlight film gems, went diving to her right to knock away a bullet from Tyler’s Renata Inniss, who spun and fired from about 12 yards out with just less than a minute left. Then 30 seconds later, Medina made another classic save, stopping Lacee Blakeley’s corner kick.
“She did an incredible job,’’ Bonner said. “She was very focused all day. She was very focused and had a great game.’’
Medina said she just didn’t want to let her team down.
“I just had it in my mind that I didn’t want to get beat,’’ she said. “I just wanted to do whatever I had to do to beat them.’’
Both Navarro coaches said it was by far Medina’s finest game of the season.
“Kenia played big girl ball today,’’ said Navarro assistant coach Aric Bonner. “She did her job. She made some great saves.’’
Medina held off Tyler early. The Apaches dominated the first half and ha a five-minute flurry about 30 minutes into the game when it looked like they were going to break the game open, but Medina made three leaping saves to stop two shots by Chole Burr and another by Alicia Cooper, and the two teams went to halftime scoreless.
Burr finally broke the silence with a gem, slicing a shot from about 18 yards out from right to left and burying it in the left corner of the net in the 79th minute.
Navarro, which had dominated the second half and came close to scoring on a blast by Carter that was just high and a power shot from Shanice Foster that slammed off the top bar, had to rally just to force a tie.
The goal for the Bulldogs (12-0-1) came in the closing minutes when Melina Prado found a seam and sent the ball up to Carter, who finally had a breath of life and a glimpse of daylight. Tyler marked Carter all day, often double-teaming Navarro’s top scorer and collapsing on her whenever she drew close to box. Tyler’s Bobbie Gutierrez was glued to Carter from the opening kickoff.
“She was right there, kicking me all day,’’ said Carter, smacking her hand on her shins. “They had one girl on me and then two and then three, but I was never frustrated. It didn’t matter if they had two or three, I just made up my mind I was going to score.’’
She did, and it came in dramatic fashion.
Prado drove down the middle of the field and spotted Carter in traffic ahead, and slipped the cross to a patch of empty grass and waited for Carter to fly to the ball.
“I looked up and saw her and thought, ‘This is a big opportunity.’ I know Trudi is fast. I knew she would get there. I trust in Trudi!’’
They all do.
Medina, who saw the goal from the other side of the field said, “I saw it and jumped up and down. Everyone was so excited. We knew Trudi would score when she got (that opening). Then I just knew I had to focus again and not let them score.’’
It was just a handful of daylight and a quick-as-lightning move.
“It was just a little daylight,’’ Aric Bonner said. “That’s all she needs.’’
“It was beautiful,’’ Debbie Bonner said.
Tyler (15-2-1) had done such an incredible job stopping Carter all day until she broke free.
“She (Gutierrez) did a good job on her, but not good enough,’’ Tyler Coach Corey Rose said. “It was two top five teams battling to a tie. I thought both teams took advantage of mistakes. I felt we won the first half, they won the second half and it was even in overtime.’’
Debbie Bonner agreed — a classic showdown that no one won.
Thanks to Carter.
“It was a life saver,’’ she said of her goal. “When I saw the ball the only thing I thought was I have to score this goal for my team, to get my team back in it. When I scored it was just tears of joy.’’