MONMOUTH — The first of the Monmouth girls soccer team’s late-season tests didn’t go well. The second wasn’t going so hot, either. The Mustangs were mired in a two-goal deficit against Mountain Valley Conference rival Oak Hill, very similar to the predicament they found themselves in a week earlier in a loss to Madison, which ended with their first defeat of the season.

“We hadn’t been in a hole all year,” coach Gary Trafton said. “Against Madison we were, and we just didn’t respond.”

Same beginning, different ending this time. This time, Monmouth had an answer, storming back for a 3-2 win on Audrey Fletcher’s game-winning goal with only 3:09 to go. The win allows the Mustangs (13-1-0) to finish the season as the No. 1 overall seed in Class C South, and they’ll enter the postseason riding an afternoon that quickly progressed from disappointing to encouraging.

“We didn’t panic when we were down, and I think we came back strong,” Fletcher said. “I’m proud of how our team did.”

Fletcher’s winning tally came with Monmouth providing pressure in the Oak Hill end. Tia Day had a feed over to the freshman, whose shot from the right side of the box glanced off keeper Anna Dodge’s fingertips and in.

“It’s a bad taste in your mouth,” Oak Hill coach Jeremy Young said. “It’s tough to make sure they understand how well they played. This should be a confidence-builder for us.”

“I’m real pleased with how the girls responded, being down 2-0 and they didn’t give up when they could have dropped their heads,” said Trafton. “The girls just kept on going, playing hard and didn’t stop. … We responded today. That’s a very good team over there.”

It didn’t need long to show it. Oak Hill (9-3-2), itself a top playoff contender in Class B, jumped ahead early, rattling the Mustangs for two goals in the first 15 minutes. Sadie Waterman struck first when she found the net only 3:52 into the game, and the Raiders doubled the advantage when Monmouth goalie Katie Harris couldn’t smother a pass from Rylea Mae Swan and Eliza Whisenant skipped it past her into the net at 14:35.

“We just didn’t play good defense in the first half,” said Trafton, who acknowledged similarities between the start of the game and the loss to Madison, a 3-1 decision, the week before. “They had some breakaways early in the game, too. We could have been down here in a bigger hole.”

Two goals, while daunting, is manageable, and the Mustangs went to work soon after the second strike. Day got the attack started, settling a loose ball at the back of the box and firing a left-footed shot into the top left corner of the net to trim the gap to 2-1 at 20:09.

Suddenly, the climb back didn’t seem so steep, and with Monmouth sustaining the pressure — Dodge’s scrambling saves were key to preserving the lead until halftime — Trafton was confident his team could complete the comeback.

“When we got the first goal, I thought ‘Yep, all we need is one more,’ ” Trafton said. “We have enough girls to score. We’ve got a lot of girls that are scoring 15, 18, 20 goals this year.”

The tying tally came only 1:41 into the second half, with Haley Fletcher booting a long shot from behind the left corner of the box into the top right corner. Elsewhere on the field, her sister could feel the momentum shift further once the ball found the net.

“That was a really big step,” Audrey Fletcher said. “That really kept us in the game and gave us hope.”

She got to finish the comeback herself, but not without a final flash of worry — Dodge nearly steered the ball aside, and probably needed an inch or two more of reach to make the save.

“I felt really calm as Tia crossed it,” Audrey Fletcher said. “I heard her fingertips, and I was like ‘Oh, great.’ But when it went in, I was (relieved). She’s a very good goalie.”

The lead held, but not without a final cardiac moment as a ball that got away from Harris went over to Sydney Drew, who had an open net with 1:50 left. The shot went just high, however, and though it was the last of his team’s chances, Young was happy with what he saw from his team in a playoff environment.

“(In) a game like this where both teams are pretty well matched, and it’s a nice, intense game, it’s a tough one to swallow,” he said. “You can’t be upset about it. They played great.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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