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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Yokota girls soccer team was spotted wolfing down ice cream at the food court and dancing on the rooftop parking lot above the Base Exchange on Thursday.

The girls had good reason to celebrate.

Minami Plude’s penalty kick in the 74th minute, and 19 saves by goalkeeper Erika Fisher, gave the Lady Panthers a 2-1 victory over the American School In Japan — Yokota’s first triumph over the Lady Mustangs.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Plude, who has nine goals this season.

The Lady Panthers (5-2-1) won their third straight game and moved to second in Japan behind Nile C. Kinnick (7-1).

Since girls soccer became an interscholastic sport in 1990, Yokota had never beaten ASIJ. The Lady Mustangs (1-1-1) hadn’t lost a regular-season match since the 2000 season finale, when it had already wrapped up the Kanto Plain title.

Thursday’s encounter continued an upset trend in Pacific girls soccer that began March 15, when Pusan American beat Seoul American 2-0 for its first victory over the Lady Falcons since the sport became sanctioned by the Korean-American conference in 1988. Guam High went 14-0 this season and outscored opponents 66-3, capturing the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam title — the first by any girls program in the school’s six-year history.

Yokota and ASIJ might have remained deadlocked Thursday were it not for a handball call in the penalty area with six minutes remaining. Plude was picked to attempt the penalty shot.

“I started straight at the goalkeeper, and I could see she was a little scared,” Plude said. “So I just kicked it and hoped it would go in. The world just froze around me when I took the shot.”

The ball sailed high and over the outstretched hands of ASIJ goalkeeper Ashley Szulim into the top of the net, just under the crossbar, sparking a brief celebration. A longer one took place six minutes later, but not before a couple of anxious moments as the Lady Mustangs squeezed off a few more shots against Fisher.

“She’s the best goalkeeper in the world,” Yokota right forward Shawna Vitarbo said.

“I was very nervous,” Fisher added. “I couldn’t wait until the match was over.”

When it was, the players piled on each other about 30 yards from the Lady Panthers’ net in celebration, which continued about a half-hour later over a variety of desserts at the food court.

The only shot that got past Fisher was a header by Kristen Isle off Elizabeth Schwarz’s corner kick in the 13th minute. Yokota’s Jonica Childress tied the match 1-1 in opening minute of the second half, booting in a rebound off a shot by Plude in front.

For Yokota senior defender Maren Wagner, the victory was especially sweet. She’d lost six times to the Lady Mustangs.

“What a senior memory,” she said. “This is awesome. The team is awesome. The coach is awesome. The game was awesome.”

ASIJ coach Roger Onions, whose team hadn’t played in two weeks, could only tip his hat to the Lady Panthers.

“They played a very spirited match,” he said. “Especially in the second half, they played very well. They deserved it.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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