Still a few years shy of teenager status, freckle-faced Camille Waltos may never again be quite as reluctant to step forward and become a hands-down hero.
For that, she can thank the epic circumstances surrounding the girls' third- and fourth-grade Gold Division final of the Daily Pilot Cup on Sunday, a soothing pep talk from Coach Jeff Creamer, and, last but not least, a strong, accurate right leg.
Waltos, who moments before was in tears over the prospect of taking the first sudden-victory penalty kick attempt for Mariners Christian School, settled down enough to convert to give the Lions the title.
Waltos' clinching kick, which followed a 1-1 deadlock in regulation and a 2-2 stalemate in the initial five-round shootout, also denied a dominant and dramatic title bid by Kaiser Elementary at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
"[Creamer] helped me relax and then I felt really good after I kicked it in," said Waltos, whose smiling face had no visible traces of the tears that cascaded down her cheeks just moments before her game-winning strike.
"It felt good," Waltos said after she lifted her PK attempt into the upper left portion of the net, allowing the goalkeeper no chance to extend things to another round.
"I just prayed with each of the kids to give them strength," said Creamer, who had a hard time getting five volunteers for the first five PKs, let alone a sixth. "It was an amazing, amazing game. That's the way a championship should be, but the pressure is extreme. At the end of the day, I'm glad we came out with a victory. These girls played their hearts out. They gave it 150% and I'm so proud of each and every one of them."
Annie Duda gave Mariners Christian the lead it held for 49-plus minutes of the 50-minute regulation time, converting an assist from Gabriella Creamer into a goal in the fourth minute. After receiving the pass at the top of the 18-yard box, Duda dribbled to her right to dodge a defender, then directed the shot back to her left, tucking it inside the far post.
It proved to be one of a scant number of chances for the Lions, who were outshot, 24-3, by the tenacious Knights.
Kaiser, with a dynamic forward line of Hannah Nye, Caitherine McCrory and Emily Couch, consistently peppered shots at the MCS defense.
But it wasn't until Emmy Degen drove a cross from Nye into the upper left corner of the net from the top of the box with 20 seconds remaining, that Kaiser had anything to show for its offensive onslaught.
"My girls played awesome," Kaiser Coach Patti Degen said. "They dominated, but were just unlucky."
Fortune alternately favored and scoffed at both teams in the shootout, which began with Gabriella Creamer punching a shot inside the left post to put MCS up, 1-0.
Lions goalkeeper Chloe Zollman then stopped a shot not far from her feet on Kaiser's first PK attempt, which was answered when Knights' keeper Sophia Stark lunged to her left to get both hands on an MCS attempt.
Amanda Sei, whose deft passing triggered a handful of Kaiser scoring chances in regulation, boomed a driving PK into the virtual center of the net to knot the shootout, 1-1.
Logan Bray then converted for MCS, pushing her attempt inside the right post, before a Kaiser shooter misfired wide right, then a Lions attacker pushed one wide left.
Emma Coatsworth, whose noteworthy presence was primarily at the defensive end, pulled Kaiser even by rolling her PK inside the right post.
Stark recorded a save on a shot directed right at her, but Kaiser missed its fifth try wide left to force the extra session.
After Woltos' big boot, the final Kaiser shooter missed wide left to spark a wild MCS celebration.
Sheya Lavin was monumental on defense for MCS, which also received strong defensive play from Vicky Zhang.
"[Lavin] is my rock back there on defense," Jeff Creamer said. "She makes it happen back there, and she is a true leader."
Chloe Seabold, Paige Kidder, Caitlin Cohen, Katie Thies and Trinity Hanson also contributed for the Lions, whose run to the final included wins over Carden Hall (4-0), Newport Heights (3-1), Our Lady Queen of Angels (3-1) and semifinal foe Lincoln (2-0).
Kaiser, which handled Newport Heights, 4-0, in its semifinal, had additional wins against Lincoln (1-0), Davis (5-0) and Andersen (2-1) during its tournament run.
Haley Dodman's work at midfield and sterling defensive play by Sydney Anderson aided the Kaiser cause, while Sophie Harlan and Anna Wahlburger also made Patti Degan, and animated assistant coach Tom McCrory proud.
"Kaiser rocks," Patti Degen said. "We're sad, but we are going to pull it together next year."