Postgame on the Pitch
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Section final, here we come! Esko stymies Hawks 1-0
One more win. That’s all it will take for the Esko-Carlton girls
soccer team to make their second-ever trip to the state tournament and first since 2005. At the pace they’re going, they’re in pretty good shape.
The Eskomos (11-6-1) continued their quest to state when they stymied Hermantown 1-0 in a Section 7A semifinal contest Tuesday afternoon in Esko.
“We’re playing as well as we have been all season long,” said coach Nicki Peterson. “These past couple games have come together and that’s been very fun to see.”
After a so-so regular season on the pitch, Esko-Carlton has kicked into fifth gear come playoff time. After receiving a first-round bye, the No. 2-seeded Eskomos blanked Hibbing-Chisholm 4-0 Saturday, then posted another shutout Tuesday against the Hawks. That doesn’t even include their final two shutouts against Cloquet and Zimmerman to close their regular season.
“Our defense was amazing today,” said Peterson. “Hermantown played well and had chances, but our defense kept those chances to a minimum.”
Junior goalkeeper Rachel Ofstie can take a lot of that credit, too. She stuffed all 11 attempts directed towards her this postseason.
“Rachel has really made some nice saves for us,” said Peterson. “She was great today.”
And then there’s Caitlin Lilly. The junior scoring phenomenon again found the back of the net Tuesday to carry the Eskomos to victory. The speedy forward – who missed all of last season due to transfer rules – buried a long cross from the right side off the foot of senior Kelsey Mudek in the 36th minute.
In Esko-Carlton’s quarterfinal win over the Bluejackets Saturday, Lilly netted a hat trick, scoring goals from Mudek, senior Sammy Toivonen and sophomore Hillary Anderson. It was just another day in the park for Eskomos’ leading scorer.
“She just has the composure and patience out there,” said Peterson. “She doesn’t ever take an unnecessary shot at the net. She just knows when to go.”
Lilly’s strike late in the first half Tuesday changed everything. From a back-and-forth contest in the opening frame, Esko-Carlton took over in the second and didn’t budge.
“That was a good way for us to come in at half,” said Peterson. “It boosted our confidence.”
It’s now onto the championship. Their opponent: No. 1 seed Chisago Lakes Area (14-5-1).
The top-seed Wildcats sent North Branch packing and bounced the Lumberjacks 2-0 in Tuesday’s semis to advance to the finals. During the regular season, they clashed with Esko-Carlton in Esko, narrowly escaping with a 3-1 double-overtime win with a pair of late tallies.
But nowadays, that blemish is out the window. Peterson now looks at it as an advantage.
“We know what to expect now, that’s why we scheduled them,” she said of the Wildcats, who along with Esko, were the only two teams to receive first-round byes last week. “I think the girls will go in with a lot of confidence. Hopefully it’ll be a good game.”
The proposed final between the pair of state-hopefuls is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at Public Schools Stadium, Duluth.
All the marbles will be on the line, but the Eskomos like it that way. Especially with the way they’re playing right now. Anything could happen.
“They can feel the energy and excitement,” Peterson said of her girls. “Our ultimate goal is to get to state. We just have to put the ball in the net.”
Lumberjacks end season with 2-0 loss to top-seeded Wildcats
If you attend Thursday’s Section 7A girls soccer championship contest, you’ll likely notice something odd. Cloquet won’t be playing.
For the first time in recent memory, the Lumberjacks (8-9-2) will sit out of the section title game. Their season came to end in a 2-0 Section 7A semifinal road loss against top-seeded Chisago Lakes Area on Tuesday.
Yet, the final score wasn’t relevant of the game itself.
“Honestly we have more quality chances than they did in the first half,” said Cloquet coach Dustin Randall, whose No. 4-seeded Lumberjacks downed Becker and Zimmerman to earn a slot in Tuesday’s semis. “I don’t think they expected us to show up, but we did. We were confident, and I think we were ready to play tonight.”
Tied 0-0 at half, things suddenly changed. Chisago Lakes Area scored late on a corner kick, and then netted a late goal with Cloquet in desperation mode.
“They woke up,” said Randall of the Wildcats. “They’re a good team, no doubt about it – one of the best we’ve seen all year long.”
Randall said the first goal on the late corner kick hurt the most.
“It was just one of those things,” he said. “We could have been up 2-0 just as easily as they were. We didn’t lose the game ourselves, we just got beat.”
Randall praised his young girls, noting they learned a lot this fall and this postseason experience is only going to better prepare them for future runs to the state pinnacle.
“A lot of girls realized that it’s not easy,” he said. “They worked hard. I’m proud of my team.”
Leading scorers this season included junior Carri Zeadow and sophomores Carley Esse and Emily Rikkola. Playoff leaders featured Rikkola, Esse, junior Sadie Micke and senior Jessie Ryan.
CEC boys plagued by wind, close year with 3-2 loss at Hermantown
CEC (7-9-1) jumped to an early 2-0 lead Saturday in Hermantown, then things rapidly went downhill. Their early lead evaporated and the Hawks downed the Lumberjacks in come-from-behind fashion in a Section 7A quarterfinal match.
“The wind was a big factor,” said CEC coach Archie Clark.
An even larger factor in the loss was Hermantown’s late first-half goal.
“To tell you the truth, that was the difference in the game,” said Clark, who watched his team’s two-goal lead get cut in half just before halftime. “Then it was like swimming upstream.”
Junior Sam Longseth scored for CEC first on an assist from all-state junior teammate Hunter Leon – who Clark said was the “heart and soul of their team” – while just over 10 minutes later the ’Jacks struck again when junior Landen Straub netted a pass from junior Austin Cossalter.
The Hawks then followed with three-straight goals – two in the second half – to stun CEC.
“We had a tough schedule this year and our program is at the point where we need to be challenged all the time. It’ll be even tougher next year,” said Clark. “Hermantown is tough, especially at home. We played well, it just wasn’t enough.”