HUDSON — The handball could be debated in girls soccer circles for years.
Hudson fans will contend the ball hit the River Ridge defender's arm.
River Ridge fans would argue it did not and the late whistle — they would say influenced by the raucous home crowd — was proof.
The outcome Tuesday was a Hudson penalty kick and freshman Brooke McKillen knew exactly how to strike it — down toward the right post. Her shot was the first of three unanswered Hudson goals in one of the biggest comebacks in North Suncoast history for a 4-3 win against River Ridge.
"That was one heck of a game to be a part of," Hudson first-year coach Stephen Jones said. "To come back from two goals down, they've earned it. That's one we won't forget for the rest of our lives."
The victory sends Hudson (18-3-1) to the program's first region final Friday at Eustis.
Jones did not hesitate to turn to his freshman.
"She's been the most consistent goalkeeper all month," Jones said. "… As soon as the call was made she smiled at me and I knew she wanted to kick."
Of course, the comeback was far from complete after McKillen's penalty kick cut the River Ridge lead to 3-2.
Hudson would get its next goal to tie it at 3 thanks to a shot by Logan McGee with roughly 17 minutes left.
Then it was McKillen again with less than nine minutes left. She used some dazzling footwork to weave through a pair of defenders before striking the ball and notching what proved to be the winner for a 4-3 lead.
"I'm just thinking I don't want to be that person that's thinking about losing," McKillen said. "I want to be the person that … achieved what I wanted to do."
Hudson's effort wasted what had been a strong game by the Royal Knights. River Ridge opened the scoring 11 minutes in when Sarah Olin broke free down the right side and crushed a near perfect shot to the inside left post.
Hudson tied it at 1 when Alicia Schuering fired a shot off a defender, changing the trajectory and sending the shot into the upper left-hand corner.
The Royal Knights (18-3-1) answered with back-to-back goals in the span of a minute, first from Mikaela Morolla then thanks to some nifty dribbling by Jenny Karl.
"There were some things that changed the momentum," River Ridge coach Skip Glover said. "That PK was a big difference. … I can't take anything away from Hudson, they played a great game."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.