CRANSTON — Talk about a roller-coaster ride of emotions.
The Division II girls soccer tournament championship game Saturday night ran the gamut — highs and lows, naturally, but plenty of anxiety, pressure and stress along the way.
In the end, for Chariho High, it was relief, and as coach Britney Godbout put it, "pure joy."
The top-seeded Chargers, undefeated against D-II opponents this season, stayed perfect with a penalty-kick shootout win over No. 3 Prout at Cranston Stadium to capture the division crown.
It's the program's second D-II championship and first since 2000.
Chariho (20-1-1) overcame a lengthy one-goal deficit to tie the game at 2 with 1:02 left in regulation and a thunderstorm beginning to make its presence felt.
When regulation ended with the game still 2-2, there was an hour's-long weather delay that included heavy rain, lightning and tornado warnings. The two teams then played two scoreless 5-minute overtime periods before the Chargers won the shootout, 4-2.
There was no shortage of heroes for Chariho:
• Freshman star Ryann Denecour, who delivered the free kick that led to the game-tying goal, scored easily as the Chargers' first shooter of the PK round, then surprised many by stepping in to play goalie during the shootout, making a key stop that helped secure the win.
• Sophomore Rachael Abbott, who scored both Charger goals during regulation.
• Senior Eva Simmons and sophomore Tori Babineau, who each scored during the pressure-packed shootout.
• Senior Bailey Patton, who was called upon to make her first varsity start in goal after the Chargers' first- and second-string keepers were lost to COVID-19 and a concussion, respectively. She made seven saves.
• Senior Bella Pezzullo, who was Chariho's fifth and final shooter of the PK round and clinched the victory with a blast into the right side of the net.
Pezzullo was mobbed by jubilant teammates after the game-winning score.
"Everyone was on top of me. I couldn't even breathe, but it was OK because I was happy so it didn't really matter," said Pezzullo, noting that she was confident the Chargers would win the shootout because they practice PKs often.
"It's never easy for us," said Godbout, who's in her 11th season and lost on PKs to Scituate in the 2016 semifinals. "We came into this playoff, like, all right, we're undefeated, we've beaten all these teams. We've got this. And then we have COVID, and then have injuries. We had to get a little creative."
Prout (14-3-2) didn't care about any of the adversity Chariho was dealing with.
The Crusaders were looking to avenge a 3-0 loss on Oct. 14 and they certainly hadn't forgotten the end to last season, when a Chariho player contracted COVID ending its season but ending Prout's too because of contact issues.
"We were taken out by COVID and we took Prout out with us, so there was always some tension there that needed to be dealt with," Pezzullo said.
After Chariho took a 1-0 lead 10 minutes into the game — Abbott scoring from about 15 yards out after controlling a low, line-drive corner kick from Pezzullo — Prout began to assert itself, playing aggressively and taking advantage of a stiff wind at its back.
Julia Mastrandrea tied the game with 27:15 left in the half, collecting a fumbled ball out in front and rolling it in. Then, with about 7 minutes remaining, the sophomore made it 2-1. After Mia Rosato floated in a free kick, Mastrandrea, with her back to the goal, used her head to flick the ball over the reach of Patton and into the net.
Meanwhile, Chariho couldn't get anything going offensively, often relying on long balls and looking for Prout mistakes in the back that didn't happen. Even with the wind in their favor in the second half, the Chargers didn't get quality chances.
"The first half, going against the wind really put us out of our strategy and made us play a little differently," Godbout said. "The second half, we had a tough time getting back into our rhythm."
Late in the second half, Chariho changed to a 3-4-3 formation and, with about 3 minutes left, moved Kaitlyn Rousseau to goalie to take advantage of her punting ability and put more pressure on the Crusaders.
Finally, the Chargers broke through when a foul was called on Prout after a Rousseau punt. Denecour lined a shot on net that the Prout goalie dropped. The ball rolled toward the Prout net and Abbott rammed it home to tie it.
Then came the rain. And lightning. And a 60-minute delay.
The Chargers waited on their bus. Denecour said she "was actually very nervous" during the delay. Nerves may have played a role in the overtime periods — neither team produced a solid chance, leading to the shootout.
Denecour was first up in the shootout, in which each team takes five penalty kicks per round from 8 yards out. She scored easily, then put on a goalie jersey, got a kiss from her sister, senior Brianna Denecour, and ran to the goal mouth — her first time playing goalie since one time as an eighth grader, she said, though she's "been practicing a little."
Nevertheless, Prout's goalie, Seneca Fielding, scored to even things. Simmons answered to make it 2-1 Chariho before Prout's Morgan Verdi tied it at 2. Chariho flinched first, missing high over the net. But Denecour came to the rescue, making a save to keep it 2-2.
"I knew where she was going just from where she put the ball down," Denecour said. "I just knew that I wanted, I needed, to save that goal. The coach told me, 'You need to save one. That's it.' And that's what I did."
"Ryann stepped up huge," Pezzullo said. "Ryann can play anything and everything and do amazing at it."
Babineau followed with a drive to the right side to make it 3-2 Chariho, and when Prout's next shooter hit the post, that set up Pezzullo's winner.
When the on-field celebrations had subsided, a tearful Godbout, relieved and exhausted, was overwhelmed.
"I couldn't be happier right now," she said. "We've come so close so many times. And to hold up this plaque and celebrate on this field and to have that [performance] tonight, after all the adversity we've dealt with the last few weeks, it's pure joy. I'm so proud of all the girls, the athletic program, the school, our community. It was truly a team effort."