Alexa Brown pretended it was another practice session for the Seneca High School girls' soccer team.
"I tried not to think about it too much," said Brown, a junior midfielder for the Golden Eagles. "I just tried to take the shot I take in practice all the time."
This wasn't practice.
This was high stakes.
Brown's successful penalty kick clinched the South Jersey Group 3 title game for Seneca over host Highland on Friday, capping the Golden Eagles' remarkable run from No. 9 seed to sectional champion.
"This was redemption for us," Brown said after her penalty kick in the fourth round gave the Golden Eagles an insurmountable 4-2 advantage. "We lost in this game last year, and all we've thought about since that was getting back and winning it."
Senior goalie Samantha Andrews led the way for Seneca, with two clutch saves in the penalty-kick phase after the teams battled to a 1-1 tie through 100 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods.
Andrews made diving stops of Highland's second and third penalty-kick attempts, easing the pressure on the Golden Eagles' shooters and setting the stage for Brown's game-winner.
"My teammates help me with PKs every day in practice," Andrews said after Seneca improved its record to 16-7 and advanced to face Central Jersey champion Wall in the state semifinals.
The loss was emotional for second-seeded Highland (16-6) as 12 seniors will leave the program after helping the Tartans advance to the sectional finals for the first time.
"I hate losing in PKs," Highland coach Veronica Rhea said. "It's so tough. But I was just so proud of the girls, how hard they played.
"I was a little nervous before this game because Seneca plays in the Olympic Conference and plays a tougher schedule than we do, but I think we held our own.
"Our girls showed that Highland soccer is not a team to write off."
Seneca took a 1-0 lead with 21 minutes remaining in regulation when Brown lofted a re-start into the box, and senior striker Mackenzie Hoffman worked through a scramble in front of the net and poked home the game's first goal.
Highland answered almost immediately as senior midfielder Lauren Hoelke blasted a shot from around 35 yards away that soared over Andrews' head, hit the underside of the crossbar and caromed into the net.
Neither team could score in the remaining 18 minutes of regulation or the two overtime periods.
Andrews' dived to the right for one save and to her left for another in the penalty-kick phase.
"That was amazing," Brown said of Andrews' saves. "It gave us so much confidence."
Hoffman, Anna Yannessa and Emily Meale buried Seneca's first three penalty kicks. That allowed Brown to blast the game winner, turn and race into the arms of her charging teammates.
"You never really think you're going to get to do it in a championship game," Brown said. "I can't even describe it."
Seneca 0 1 0 0 - 1
Highland 0 1 0 0 - 1
Goals: S-Mackenzie Hoffman; H-Lauren Hoelke.
Saves: S-Samantha Andrews 5; H-Kaitlyn Bannan 6.