Photo: Northwest celebrates after being handed the NJCAA Region 23 championship trophy following Sunday evening’s 3-0 victory against Pearl River. (Brian Oakley/nwccrangers.com)
As the clock hit the 89th minute during Sunday’s NJCAA Region 23 championship match, the celebration began to erupt on the Northwest bench.
With every goal of the Lady Rangers’ 3-0 victory against Pearl River, the decades-long championship drought was slowly, but surely, coming to a ceremonious end.
“We are really excited for the girls,” Northwest coach James Beattie said. “They deserve it. We went to the national tournament last season and fell short in the semifinals. Hopefully we can use our experiences from last year and win the competition this time around.”
For Northwest, it was the program’s first championship of any kind and it also signified a moment of redemption from last year’s Region 23 title loss in penalty kicks to Holmes. With the win, the Lady Rangers (20-1) captured the program’s first 20-win season and clinched an automatic bid to the NJCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship tournament, marking the program’s second consecutive trip to Tucson, Ariz.
Scoreless through the first 14 minutes, sophomore Evie Crawford got Northwest on the board off a corner kick from Mari Julia Delgado. The score marked Crawford’s 14th goal of the season, tying her for the team scoring lead with Delgado, who also earned her team-leading 14th assist. The 1-0 lead would remain in tact for the Lady Rangers throughout the remainder of the first half.
Pearl River simply couldn’t find a response on the offensive side of the ball and eventually, the Lady Rangers pounced on the chance to stretch the lead. In the 65th minute, Emma Wilson’s second goal of the season made it a 2-0 advantage.
Northwest put the icing on the cake in the 80th minute, as Kaley Harden’s initial shot attempt was deflected off of Brandy Hernandez, who sent it into the net for her ninth goal of the season.
In all, Northwest took 15 shots, including 11 on-goal. Pearl River was limited to six shots and just two on-goal.
Anna Kathryn Harrell recorded eight saves for the Lady Rangers, moving her record to 18-1 on the season. For the year, the Tupelo native has 66 saves and just four goals allowed.
Northwest will now await the official selection show later this week to find out its tournament seeding and matchups. The NJCAA Division II Women’s Soccer Championship tournament is scheduled for Nov. 12-18 at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson.