As the final seconds ticked down a week ago against River Bluff, Wando senior Bailey Champ felt the tears welling up in her eyes.
"I just felt like, 'This is it. This is the end,'" she said. "And then a miracle happened."
Wando's girls soccer team has needed more than one miracle during what might be the most unlikely playoff run in coach Shannon Champ's tenure, which has included six state championships.
The Warriors have won three straight overtime games, two of them by way of sudden-death golden goals, en route to their 10th state championship appearance in 11 years. Wando will face familiar nemesis J.L. Mann in the Class AAAAA title game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Irmo High School.
Wando's boys team, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, also takes on J.L. Mann in the state championship at 7 p.m. And Palmetto Scholars Academy, making its first appearance in the Class A boys' playoffs, faces Upper State champ Dixie at 11 a.m.
The Wando girls' run of comeback victories includes wins over Blythewood (4-3), River Bluff (5-4) and a 2-1 win at Lexington, the team that won the AAAA title last year and knocked the Warriors out in the third round, their earliest playoff exit since 2005.
"It's been pretty stressful," said Eva Dailey, one of just three seniors on the team. "You look up at the clock and see two minutes to go, and you think, 'This could be it, my last time in this jersey, my last time on this field.'
"But then coming back and winning, it's such a rollercoaster of emotions, from the worst to the best. It's been insane."
The insanity has included:
• Against Blythewood in the second round, Wando trailed by 2-0 and 3-1 before junior Tess Southard and sophomore Sophie Job scored to tie the game at 3-3. Junior Mary Michels banged the game-winner off the post in overtime.
• The Warriors were down to the final seconds against River Bluff in the Lower State semifinals when top scorer Sami Meredith, a sophomore, scored to tie it at 3-3 and force OT. Southard tallied off an assist from Dailey to knot the score again in extra time, and Bailey Champ won the game with a golden goal in sudden death.
• And then at Lexington last Monday, Wando trailed for about 75 minutes. But freshman keeper Aubrey Myers kept the Warriors in it with 10 saves, and Meredith scored on a penalty kick in the final two minutes of regulation. It was Meredith with the golden goal, with an assist from sophomore Micah Spickerman, who sent the Warriors to the state finals.
"We've just been working together as a team when we're down," said senior Malena Bruno. "It's awesome to have that confidence in your teammates and know that we can take care of business on the field. You can take that lesson into the real world, that if you work together as a team, you can overcome any challenge."
The 19-2 Warriors, probably a year or two ahead of schedule after losing 10 starters from last year's team, will face a formidable challenge in J.L. Mann, 23-1 and ranked No. 14 in the nation by USA Today. The Patriots' only loss this year was to Westminster of Atlanta, ranked No. 5 by USA Today.
"They are very good, very technical and very quick on and off the ball," Shannon Champ said. "It will be another big challenge."
And maybe another miracle.
Reach Jeff Hartsell at (843) 937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC