District championship bound, Lady Tigers down Graves in PKs

The Lady Tigers celebrate in front of the home crowd after Peyton Wray scores the game-winning penalty kick to knock off Graves County in the district tournament.

MURRAY — In the most pressure-packed moment of the season for the Lady Tigers, Peyton Wray stood over the ball with a shot to extend the season and send the Lady Eagles home. She didn’t miss. 

Wray’s penalty kick score gave the Lady Tigers the PKs win 4-3 (4-3) and concluded what was a high-quality soccer match. It was the second win for the Lady Tigers over Graves this year and they are the only team this season in the region to defeat the Lady Eagles.

The game started with the Lady Tigers taking a commanding 3-0 lead by halftime. Kyra Jones got the party started with a goal in the 19th minute on a shot that floated over the goalkeeper for Graves. 

Ten minutes later, Wray scored on a long-range shot that caught the keeper off the line. Angela Gierhart capped the half with a powerful strike in the 36th minute and the game looked to be well in hand. 

The Lady Eagles were far from finished though, as they rallied and outshot the Lady Tigers 6-4 in the second half and scored three straight goals. Just like that, the lead was wiped away and the momentum had shifted to Graves County with 11 minutes left to play in regulation. 

“Getting up three was great and we knew we needed that, because I knew Graves wasn’t going to lay down,” Traylor said. “Did I really want overtime after having three goals in the first half and Graves gets three in the second half? Probably not, but we did the get the ball down here (on offense) at the end of regulation and shifted the momentum a little bit.” 

Overtime was frenetic and both sides had chances. The opening 30 seconds looked like the game was over as a Graves player broke past the defense and had an opportunity one-on-one with Ana Bryson, the Lady Tigers goalkeeper. In that moment, Bryson came up huge, much like she did all night. She slid into the ball and collected it, all while taking a kick to head. It was one of her 18 saves on the night.

“(You’ve got to) rise to the occasion and she does,” Traylor said. “I think she might like the pressure. She said that the first 15 minutes she felt a little nervous but then she said, ‘I feel different now.’ She came out of her box more, which is what we need and got some confidence. I’m proud of her for sure.”

As big as that save and several others during regulation was, the biggest stop of the night for Bryson came during the first round of penalty kicks.

“Going into PKs, what I told Ana was, ‘One stop. You get one stop and the offense will get all five.’ Now the likelihood of that is slim, but she needed one stop and she did her job,” Traylor said. 

Graves shot first during PKs and that put the pressure on Bryson to get the Lady Tigers started on the right foot. She tracked the first shot she faced and sent it away and in the process gave her team some energy.

“She made a huge save on the first PK. I mean it was a great save,” Traylor said. “That really set the tone for the girls shooting afterward.”

Gerhard stepped up and delivered a great PK to give the Lady Tigers the 1-0 lead. The next wave went well for Graves as their shooter scored and Murray’s missed and the score was tied 1-1.

The next two shooters for both teams scored and kept it all square at 4-4. Then, the fifth shooter for Graves stepped up with all of the pressure of the moment, and her shot deflected off the upper crossbar and out. That set Wray up with a chance to send her team to the district championship and a guaranteed spot in the regional tournament. 

“I did it for my seniors so they could go to regionals again. (I was thinking) just don’t miss, ” Wray said. 

The postgame conversation between Traylor and her team was full of whoops and cheers as the Lady Tigers realized that they were headed to the regional tournament. 

“I am so extremely proud of you guys,” Traylor said to her team postgame. “I would say you followed the game plan well, granted we didn’t want the tie, but the game plan was to score first and get yourself a good cushion. We knew they weren’t going to give up and the momentum shifted, but you stayed poised…Coming into overtime and then PK’s, we had confidence in you guys.”

As exciting as the game was, Traylor said that games like that are always tough because one team’s season comes to an end, and the other continues.

“I’ve coached long enough that I’ve been on both ends,” Traylor said. “Even when you win it’s very fun and for the other side, it’s not very fun. I hate that for them. I coach a lot of the Graves players in club, and I hate that their season is over but love that we are moving on.”

The Lady Tigers await the winner of tonight’s game between Marshall County and Calloway County at 5:30 p.m. at Murray High. The boys will follow at 7 p.m. with Calloway and Murray fighting for a spot in the district championship and a trip to the regional tournament.

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