Unfinished business: Pisgah, Tuscola soccer battle to double overtime tie

Mar. 31—A free kick by Tuscola sophomore Gracie Rinker sailed just over the head of Pisgah goalkeeper Ainsley Kovack and into the back of the net in the second period in Wednesday's County Clash.

Waynesville fans cheered, and Rinker threw her hands up in excitement as surely the kick would seal the win for the Lady Mountaineers in a stereotypical rivalry game with momentum swings, close shots and tired legs.

"It was a beautiful shot," said Tuscola head coach John Douthit after the game.

Tuscola's players hoped it'd be the goal that sealed a beautiful rivalry win, but victory wasn't in the cards for either side.

Moments later, a Tuscola foul gave Pisgah junior Jimena Andrade, the Lady Bears' leading scorer, a free kick opportunity. Her ball swiftly found the back of the net and tied the score at one apiece.

It would be the last goal of the game for either team as Pisgah and Tuscola fought hard to a 1-1 double overtime tie in the first leg of two County Clashes this season.

"You can't get much more even," Pisgah head coach Joe Pinkston said postgame. "It's what a rivalry game is supposed to be like."

Douthit, who has been around for many County Clashes in his time, said this was one of the best he's seen.

"I saw a lot of effort out of both teams," said Douthit. "I saw a lot of ball control, well-placed balls and a lot of hustle."

Momentum swings

The game was highlighted by swift momentum swings throughout the four periods of play. Each team traded five-minute sections of momentum with a close, but just off, shot on goal.

"I think that summed up the game," Pinkston said. "Between the first and second half, probably two times each, we had the ball and the momentum, everything lined up right there at the end of the half, but we just ran out of time."

The intensity level never waned throughout the nearly two hour match, either. Multiple takedowns, whether called fouls or not, increased each team's desire for victory.

"We know that it's a different intensity level from both teams when you play the rivalry," Pinkston said. "Anything can happen."

Despite numerous foul calls on both sides, only Rinker received a yellow card for a stiff hit on a Pisgah ball handler.

Andrade went down with an apparent leg injury in overtime but walked off the field of her own volition. Two Pisgah girls had to play minutes in the game for injured teammates.

"Gabby Lara and Raylan Vaughn played a lot of minutes and did great," Pinkston said. "This is not an easy game to just be thrown to the wolves."

Douthit said he was proud of how the Lady Mountaineers played as a unit.

"Chloe Crisp really came through along with a lot of other players up top: Gracie Rinker, goalkeeper Erianne Marcus," he said. "That's a lot of minutes for a lot of those girls because we were digging too hard to sub out."

Douthit said keeping the core of starters together was important.

"We had one of our girls switching side to side following one of their best players," he said. "That really messed up their plan, but made us have to adapt each time we moved."

Tight battle

Nearly a year ago to the day — March 28, 2022 — Pisgah finally beat Tuscola for the first time in years. The Lady Bears capped last season with a 1-0 win to sweep Tuscola.

"Crossing that bridge last year, just knowing it's a team we can beat, it doesn't mean anything for this year other than knowing it has been done," Pinkston said. "That took a little bit of the nerves we used to have away. Now we know we'll at least be in the battle."

Coming in, Pinkston admits the team didn't really know what to expect.

"You can look at records and common opponents all you want, but we didn't know what to expect. Against some teams, we do better; against some teams, they do better. Against other teams, it's the same," he said. "I think we did well today just staying in the game. They're a very good, organized team. Coach Douthit has done a really good job with how they play."

Although both teams displayed talent and determination, neither got what it wanted: a win.

"Obviously, you want to win, you don't want to lose, and maybe a tie is worse than either one, but those are the rules," Pinkston said. "We're happy with the performance even if we're not happy with the result."

Douthit said a tie is a tie.

"It could've gone either way at any minute for either team," he said. "I believe we possessed better in the second half and overtime than Pisgah did, we just couldn't get in the back of the net."

Both teams will have another opportunity in the second leg of the County Clash on Monday, May 1, in Waynesville.

"We enjoy playing them, we enjoy that there's a rival, and we look forward to playing them again," Pinkston said. "We'll both know a lot more about each other at that point."

Pisgah returns to action with an away game versus East Henderson at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, April 4. After a one-day break, the Lady Bears host Swain County and North Henderson on Wednesday and Thursday.

"If we keep putting up good performances, we'll have a good season. That's what it's all about for us."

Tuscola travels to play Swain County at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 3 and then doesn't have another game until a game at Franklin on April 19.