GALLERY: Meteor Rites survive scare to claim Division 1 crown
SOCCER: Sport can be extremely harsh at times and for the BITS Sharks it proved exactly that.
Dominant for the majority of the match, the Sharks had the highly fancied Meteor Rites on the ropes for long periods during the Gladstone Division 1 Women's grand final.
But champion teams always find a way no matter the adversity and that was the case at Sun Valley Oval on Saturday night as a last-minute Tegan Van Vegchel penalty consigned the underdog Sharks to defeat.
Largely kept under wraps by the BITS midfield throughout the game, 14-year-old Van Vegchel stepped up when it counted and displayed maturity beyond her years to slot the winning penalty past BITS goalkeeper Debbie Doble.
Van Vegchel earned her trip to the penalty spot after BITS defender Holly Richards was ruled to have hand-balled in the box. It was a devastating blow for Richards who hadn't put a foot wrong before the incident.
While BITS' heads were down at the final whistle, they soon lifted upon realising they gave the champion Meteor Rites a mighty scare.
Their efforts could not be questioned and BITS coach Grant Nicolson agreed.
"I thought we were the better team for most of the night,” Nicolson said.
"The first half was pretty even but I think we dominated the second half and had a few chances but didn't put them away.
"Missed the penalty in the first half which was unfortunate, but we had enough chances to win the game.”
Willing to soak up pressure and catch Meteor Rites on the counter attack, the Sharks had numerous chances to go a goal up inside the opening half.
BITS winger Courtney McHugh caused constant headaches for the opposition defence with a series of marauding runs and hit the side netting after a great solo effort down the right flank 18 minutes in.
Not to be outdone, Meteor Rites striker Tori Van Vegchel looked extremely dangerous with numerous chances during the early exchanges.
McHugh saw another of her efforts go wide in the 27th minute as Meteor Rites struggled to defend against the 19-year-old.
A major turning point took place right before half-time when McHugh was brought down in pain inside the Meteor Rites penalty area.
Erika Davis stepped up to the spot for the penalty kick only to blaze her effort over the bar as Meteor Rites goalkeeper Jean Van Vegchel watched on.
"I said to the girls (at half-time) it takes plenty of guts to walk up and take a penalty in a grand final but I think we got over it pretty quickly,” Nicolson said.
"I'm proud of the girls - we've come a long way this year and I think they should be proud of the season they've had.”
Both sides went into the the break locked at 0-0, but BITS' skipper Davis wasn't going down without a fight as she hit the crossbar with a looping effort from long range midway through the second half.
The Meteor Rites pressed as the game threaten to go into extra time, however it wasn't to be as Van Vegchel's penalty left little time for BITS to reply.
Meteor Rites captain and Player of the Match Jean Van Vegchel lauded the effort of the BITS girls.
"That was extremely hard. They had a lot of intention of getting to the ball first and more than we did,” she said.
"There were a lot of nerves when Tegan was stepping up to the spot. She was facing up to Debbie Doble who is a great goalkeeper and she tends to pick the directions correctly.
"She did pick it correctly but there was just too much power on it.”
Meteor Rites 1 (Tegan Van Vegchel pen) defeated BITS Sharks 0.