BARTOW - The ball was inches from the goal line, inches from tying the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinal with 10 seconds left, inches from continuing Braden River's improbable season.
Then, from behind, Bartow's Jennifer Berrios nudged Jacqulyn Kagan's shot away from the chalk.
Seconds later, the final whistle blew, and Bartow had a 1-0 victory Thursday night, ending a game where girls pushed, elbowed and sliced with spikes.
Braden River (11-6), in just its second year of existence, placed second in this year's district tournament. The Pirates' squad is comprised of freshmen, sophomores and one junior.
And they were inches from possibly advancing past Bartow (12-10-4) and into the regional semifinal.
"I thought I saw a red (Braden River) person running at the ball, then when I saw it was someone in white, I was hoping the ball would go faster and faster," said Kagan, who beat a Bartow defender on the play, and drew Lady Jackets goalkeeper Marian Maloney out before booting at an open net.
The ball was certainly close to rolling over the line. But did it cross it? Depends on whom you ask.
"I got robbed," Kagan said.
"I thought it was going in," Berrios said. "I was sprinting my butt off. It was inches in front of the line."
Just a minute earlier, Amanda Peterson headed a ball to Nikki Gainey, who collided with two girls, including Maloney. Peterson dribbled the loose ball and lifted a shot from about 40 yards away toward the goal. It sailed just wide of the net.
Bartow coach Dwain Awai did not blame his keeper for leaving the net.
"I always preach that we don't second guess ourselves," he said. "That takes away focus from what we're trying to do. To me, (Maloney) is the best in the county."
Braden River's two opportunities came after a Bartow player cleated Braden River's Elizabeth Gallagher as she lay on the ground. There was no call and, after a discussion between the referees, Bartow was awarded a free kick.
"They pushed and shoved us around," Braden River coach Julie Piccirilli said. "I was proud that we kept our mouths closed through such a pushy game."
Bartow scored 13 minutes in off the foot of Adrianna Eaton. During the goal's setup - a barrage of passes in the box - Braden River's Ashley Phillips was injured and could not rise to her feet.
Phillips was marking Eaton.
"I was looking at Ashley (before the goal)," Peterson said. "I just wondered if she was OK, what was gonna happen. I thought the ref was going to blow the whistle."
Afterward, Braden River celebrated the birthday of Kristen Walley, a junior and at 17, the team's oldest player. Just a minute after the shot that did not roll quite fast enough, the team celebrated with lit candles and cut cakes.