About as evenly matched as a title game can get, the difference in the girl's fifth- and sixth-grade Silver Division Daily Pilot Cup final was Eastbluff's Avery Doherty. Heading a team of all fifth-graders, Doherty scored both goals to decide a tight 2-1 championship victory over St. Joachim Sunday at the Jack Hammet Sports Complex.
Eastbluff certainly had to earn it.
St. Joachim roared out of the gate, displaying its end-to-end talent early in the first half. After goalkeeper Kaia Pronger repelled several Eastbluff scoring chances in the opening minutes, teammate Sofia Thomas opened the scoring at the 10-minute mark.
Streaking between Eastbluff's midfielders and defensive line, Thomas blasted a powerful 30-meter rising line drive that the leaping goalkeeper could barely get a hand on. The shot splashed the back of the net for a 1-0 St. Joachim lead.
With both teams mounting impressive attacks, the defenses were equal to the task. Jilian Lorenz and Bella Riccio provided staunch protection in front of goalie Teddy King for Eastbluff. Kristin Lyndh and JoJo Flanagan protected Pronger when she wasn't making saves herself.
But with time ticking close to the half, Doherty took a loose ball around the right side of the St. Joachim defense and slipped a deft touch shot from close range under Pronger to tie the score.
The momentum carried in to the second half as Eastbluff took advantage of a St. Joachim miscue two minutes in. Off her own penalty on the offensive end, Doherty stole a low goalie kick just outside the box and booted home the go-ahead goal.
"Yes!" a smiling Doherty said of what turned out to be the decisive goal that brought home the Silver title for Eastbluff. "It feels amazing. It was fun."
Both teams mounted threats throughout the remainder of the game with St. Joachim forcing the action toward a tying marker. Eastbluff defenders Lyla Metreate and Sydney Sharp neutralized the threats while Doherty and Kate Wynn kept pressuring on the offensive end.
A furious last minute St. Joachim attack was thwarted by the final whistle and Eastbluff held on for the narrow victory.
"We never gave up," beamed Eastbluff coach Paul King. " We went down one-nothing. Great goalkeeper. Our superstar Avery came through and we just had a blast."
"It's nice to win it," added King. "We've been bridesmaids the last two years."
"Eastbluff ... what a competitor," complimented St. Joachim coach Danny Thomas without conceding anything from his own team. "These girls all played their hearts out, so what a game. They're still winners in my book."
Thomas was quick to add the positive experience went far beyond the sidelines throughout the weeklong tournament.
"The officiating was great," he said. "Everyone worked well together, I mean it was just a great tournament all the way around. And all the volunteers, it's just a good event to bring all the community together."