LITTLETON — When Centaurus goaltender Roxana Vranian dove to her right to knock away Aeva Graber’s shot in the penalty kicks, Allison Ebersole knew the Warriors girls soccer team’s season was coming down to her.
“When she made that save I knew it was up to me because I was the last shooter,” Ebersole said. “I had to make mine.”
The senior was nervous but confident, and when her soft shot to the left corner beat Valor Christian goaltender Alexandra Daws, she and the rest of the Warriors erupted in joy.
Ebersole’s deciding shot and Vranian’s key save gave the 26th-seeded Warriors a 1-0 win over No. 7 Valor Christian in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs on Wednesday.
Centaurus (9-6-1) moves on to play Ponderosa, 1-0 winners over Holy Family, on Saturday.
“This has been absolutely amazing,” Vranian said. “This is the No. 7 team and we’re No. 26. To do that, to really show people what we’re made of is incredible.”
Vranian is only a freshman but she came through like a veteran after 110 minutes of scoreless action. Both teams scored goals in the first two rounds of kicks, and then Maddison Hogan’s shot off the crossbar gave Centaurus a 3-2 lead in penalties.
Vranian stepped in and made the save of the year when she denied Graber’s shot headed for the top left corner.
“You don’t look at the eyes, never look at the eyes because they’re going to trick you,” Vranian said. “You just look at the ball and maybe their hips. You go one way and you commit and if you got it you got it. It’s all the ball, it’s all your brain, it’s all reaction.”
The reaction on the Warriors’ side was joy.
“It’s huge,” coach Mario Bezzina said. “The momentum shifts in your favor. As long as we stayed calm and kept placing the ball in the corner we knew we had a chance.”
Senior Lauren Esler, who had a great chance in the 89th minute that Daws saved, followed the game plan with a low shot to the right corner. The Eagles scored to cut the lead in penalties to 4-3, and up came Ebersole, who was injured in the 109th minute but shook it off to go for the win for Centaurus.
“I’m freaking out,” she said of the moment leading up to her shot. “It was all up to me but I knew I could do it because I did it before. The corners are the hardest for the goalies to get to so I tried to place it, not really power it.”
The offensive flurry in the penalty kicks was a stark contrast to 80 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes more of overtime. Centaurus was able to keep Valor Christian clogged up, showing the stellar defense that held opponents to seven goals in April.
“We had to work hard on both ends, make sure we secure the middle of the field to force them out and it worked,” Bezzina said.
It also kept their improbable season alive for another round.
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Centaurus 0, Valor Christian 0
Centaurus wins 5-3 in PKs
At Valor Christian
Centaurus 0 0 0 0 (5) — 0
Valor Christian 0 0 0 0 (3) — 0
Penalty kick goals (assists) — Centaurus: Turcotte, Mo. Brendefur, Hogan, Esler, Ebersole; Valor Christian: Noonan, Quinones, Wright.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Centaurus: Vranian (110-0-15); Valor Christian: Al. Daws (110-0-10).