Ever since losing a playoff game three years ago via penalty strokes, Iroquois has devoted lots of daily practice time toward honing its skills in the pressure-packed one-on-one situation with the goalie.
The Chiefs' reward for all of that hard work: their second straight Section VI Class B field hockey championship.
Senior goalie Taylor Steck made two gargantuan saves during the penalty-stroke shootout, while classmates Andie Sauers and Nicole Augustine scored the only goals of the stroke off to carry Iroquois into the state tournament with a 4-3 comeback triumph over Williamsville South.
The path to the state tournament seemed like it would be easy for the Chiefs but they needed an Augustine goal off a penalty shot with 6:46 left to force overtime after the Billies erased a 2-0 deficit with a shocking three-goal blitz.
"It was exhilarating," Augustine said. "As a defender, strokes are usually the only time I get to shoot on goal. When I get a chance to shoot I make the most of it."
"I knew we could win," added senior co-captain Rachel Sluberski. "I feel kind of relieved. We let down for one second but thankfully we kept working hard and we came out with the win."
Holland and Williamsville North also won sectional titles before an estimated three-game crowd of 500 at Amherst High School's Dimp Wagner Field.
Williamsville North (19-0) settled a score with old friend Sweet Home (10-7-2) in beating the defending Class A champions, 2-0. Holland (14-2-2) handed top seed and defending Class C champion Barker (14-1-1) its first loss to a Section VI foe in two years with a 2-1 win via penalty strokes.
The winners return to action Thursday at Dimp Wagner Field in a qualifier game against Rochester-area Section V for the right to advance to the Far West Regionals against the Binghamton-area Section IV champion.
A veteran Iroquois team (19-1-1) seemed like it would cruise to its 14th straight win after Tesa Ramsdell scored her second goal of the night with 26:06 left. But a Williamsville South team with just five seniors scored three goals in 7:03. Ashley Ferenczy scored with 14:35 left off a penalty corner. Darragh Kerr tied it off another penalty corner with 8:40 left, while Lauren Falzone scored 58 seconds later off an odd-man rush to give South the lead.
Then Augustine scored 54 seconds later to tie it for last year's state semifinalist.
"When we went up, 2-0, they have so many young players that I thought they were going to collapse but they didn't," longtime Iroquois coach Pete Tonsoline said. "They hung in there and battled back."
Williamsville North lost last year's Class A title game via penalty strokes to the Panthers. The unbeaten Spartans made sure the rematch didn't come down to that as Emily O'Gorman and Chantae Miller scored while the defense didn't allow a shot as senior goalie Nicole Lewis picked up her 16th shutout of the season.
"We had a tough loss [to them] last year," North coach Kris LaPaglia said. "It's just nice to get the title back at North."
Senior Serena Slattery and junior Sarah Trent scored during the shootout for Holland, which won its first Class C title since 2004. Goalie Ashley Wiskup made a nice glove stop and did the splits to kick away another shot with her right foot during the shootout in finishing with six stops for the game. Holland's pressure defense and one-touch passing attack frustrated the Raiders and led to Alicia Trinkle scoring the tying goal 5:19 into the second half off a rare four-on-none break.
Goalie Leia Fanin made five of her seven saves in overtime to get Barker into the shootout but Holland didn't get down on itself even though it blew a plethora of scoring chances including a breakaway.
"We weren't letting them off the hook," Trent said. "It's amazing. To beat a rival team is just a great feeling. Barker played a great game. I'm just happy with the outcome."