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Red Devil girls win thriller on penalty kicks

Nov 18, 2023

OAK HILL — Gerald Wilburn's "underrated" goalkeeper stepped up when he needed her most.

And the end result is that the Oak Hill Red Devils will play for another girls high school soccer section championship later this week.

With Class AAA Region 3, Section 2 No. 2 seed Oak Hill facing off with No. 3 seed Greenbrier East in a hard-fought affair at the Oak Hill Soccer Complex Tuesday, the match was deadlocked at 2-2 through regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods and was forced to go to penalty kicks. The Red Devils prevailed 3-2 by converting three of five penalty kicks (Samiah Lynch, Hannah White and Samantha Dean) and limiting the Spartans to just two (Caroline Dotson and Ryan White). Oak Hill senior goalkeeper Eden Gilkey rose to the challenge and denied East's final two penalty kicks, setting off a wild celebration for the Red Devils and their home crowd.

"The emotions are up there," said Wilburn, in his first year at the helm for Oak Hill. "Big win for the girls. Proud of 'em.

"This team, we've struggled a little bit all year, injuries especially. Three girls out with knee, just getting some of them back, and tonight we struggled with cramping all night long. I'm down three kids all night, one with an ankle and two with bad cramps.

"But we pulled it off, and that's the main thing."

Wilburn was especially proud of Gilkey and the team's other seniors.

"I'm really proud of the seniors stepping up and playing hard and keeping it going," he said. "Goalkeeper Eden Gilkey, you can't ask no more of her. She played and hollered all night and kept people motivated and kept them moving around.

"That's a special moment for Eden Gilkey, for only playing goalkeeper for two years; she's really underrated. She's kept us in ball games all year long."

Oak Hill's regulation goals were provided by Jade Babkirk and Emmy Harlan, while East's scores were from White and Grace Boettner. Babkirk provided the game's first score when she struck from about 15 yards out as the ball eluded East goalkeeper Laura Ratliff, who originally grasped it before losing control. Harlan netted her goal off a Lynch corner kick.

"I thought in both 10-minute overtimes, we kept the ball a lot," said Greenbrier East head coach Michael Dotson. "We had a lot of chances; we just couldn't get it in.

"We hit it off the crossbar. That's what soccer is." He called it "awfully tough" to end the season that way.

"Give Oak Hill credit; they played hard," Dotson added. "They played really good defense, and their goalie made some nice stops.

"We played three times, and all three were ... back and forth, really good games."

Wilburn admitted the Spartans controlled the game more than he would have liked.

"They kept us on our heels all night," he said. "We really held on.

"I'm not going to say we tried to take it to penalties, but we just couldn't get nothing going offensively. And with kids out, especially midfield kids that are really running a lot, I couldn't push forward. We did play a little more defense than I wanted."

"We had a lot of inexperience," said Dotson. "We thought we hit our stride in the last couple of games.

"We've been doing that the past couple of games (controlling the action), getting better and better. We just have to find a way to score, and it just didn't happen today."

No. 1 Woodrow Wilson defeated No. 4 Princeton, 5-1, in the other Tuesday semifinal, so the Red Devils will face off with the Flying Eagles at Beckley Thursday for the section championship.

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