LAKE BUTLER As one of the most important sequences of her varsity career unfolded, Ashley Matthews knew what was about to happen — not that that made it any less daunting.
With under 25 seconds to play in the FHSAA Third Round Play-In Game and the Olympia Titans knotted up with the Lake Highland Prep Highlanders at 12-12, Ashley Matthews' sister, Brittney Matthews, broke free and sprinted up the field. The two sisters had just one Highlander defender and the goalie to beat on the fast break.
What happened next was something the sisters will be talking about at family gatherings for decades.
"I knew the defender was going to go (toward Brittney) and I knew she was going to pass it," Ashley Matthews said. "I usually miss those shots but I made it — oh my gosh, I'm speechless."
Ashley Matthews' shot indeed sailed into the back of the net. Moments later, after the final 16 seconds of game time had ticked away, the bench for the Titans (21-2) cleared as teammates mobbed one another to celebrate a 13-12 victory and the program's third consecutive trip to the FHSAA Final Four.
The celebration was especially sweet, as just 10 minutes earlier Olympia had been staring down a three-goal deficit. After dominating the game's first 20 minutes and racing out to an 8-3 lead, the Titans struggled during the middle of the match as the momentum clearly swung in favor of Lake Highland Prep (17-2) in what would end up being a 9-1 run.
"We just have to continue to remember to do what we do well," Olympia head coach Chip Carbiener said. "(Lake Highland Prep) started pressuring us a little bit and we maybe panicked some. ... But once we settled down, continued to play good defense and got loose balls — that changed the game."
Momentum began to swing back in the Titans' favor as Finley Cassidy (four goals on the day) scored a pair of goals to cut the lead to one, 12-11, before Brittney Matthews tied the game at 12-12 with 3:58 to play. During that stretch, Olympia goalie Tatiana Barnes helped key several important stops on the other end of the field that enabled the Titan offense to get rolling again.
"She came up big today when we needed her," Carbiener said of Barnes, who totaled seven saves on the match.
With the win, Olympia is bound for the FHSAA Final Four for a third consecutive years. That accomplishment is significant on its own, but all the more so when considering that the Titans are on their third head coach in three years. Carbiener, who took over for this season, was an assistant under head coaches Brooke Tobin (final season was 2014) and Elyse DeLisle (2015).
"I think it speaks to the talent on the team, most importantly," Carbiener said. "Maybe people will start to realize we're doing something right here. Not a lot of teams have gone to three final fours in a row. I'm really proud of the girls."
Olympia will take on Bartram Trail (16-6) at 1 p.m. April 29 at Jupiter High School, site of this year's FHSAA Lacrosse Final Four. For at least one night, though, the Titans will bask in a thrilling victory.
"It's probably my favorite memory," Ashley Matthews said. "It's insane."
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].