The feeling wasn’t new for Mari Gillum. At least not completely.
The Porter-Gaud junior put last year’s state championship soccer match out of reach with a late score, helping the Cyclones clinch over Pinewood Preparatory School.
She did the same on Saturday in the final seconds of the team’s 3-0 title win, also against Pinewood Prep.
But unlike 2018, Gillum was also the star early in Saturday’s game. She set the tone with quick score about six minutes into the match.
“It was really important because it kind of set the tempo for the game,” she said. “We knew how we wanted to play, so I’m glad we were able to score early."
The score did a lot for the Cyclones, said coach Hope Walters. For starters, it helped her players loosen up en route to repeating as SCISA Class AAA champions.
Coming in, they knew Pinewood Prep would play with a chip on its shoulder after suffering a 3-1 loss to the Cyclones in last season's title game.
“Pinewood is competitive. They get fired up and they play us hard,” Walters said. “So we had to find a way to play our game instead of doing what they wanted us to do.”
After the early goal, the teams settled into a tough defensive matchup, with neither scoring again in the first half.
That continued deep into the second half until Porter-Gaud broke through. With about 12 minutes left, senior Evan Gilbert came up with a big score to extend the lead.
Then, Gillum tacked on the final score with under a minute left.
Panthers coach Gail Osborne said she expected a hard-fought match.
She said the two teams have become familiar with each other over the years, including two meetings this season before Saturday’s game. Porter-Gaud won the first match and Pinewood the second.
The championship loss was tough for the Panthers, but Osborne expects her team to come back even hungrier.
And she hopes to meet the Cyclones for a third consecutive title match.
“We’ll see them again,” she said. “We have some young talent coming through and only losing one senior. So our time’s coming and we know that.”
Saturday’s victory gives Porter-Gaud its sixth championship in school history. That includes a three-peat from 1993 to 1995, a 2002 title and last year’s trophy.
Saturday was also the Cyclones’ third straight trip to a state title game, including a 2017 loss to Cardinal Newman.
Gillum, who was a freshman that year, said the team has grown a lot since then.
They’ll have fun celebrating Saturday’s win. But the rising senior is already thinking about a three-peat, like those teams from the 1990s.
“We have the team to do it,” Gillum added. “We’re really talented and know how to play together. So we want to relive this feeling.”