Lumberjacks advance after thrilling shootout win

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SECTION 7A FINAL PREVIEW

Cloquet-Carlton vs. North Branch

7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19

Chisago Lakes Area High School, Lindstrom, Minn.

As if the prep soccer postseason couldn't get anymore exciting, Thursday's final pits Cloquet-Carlton against North Branch, Section 7A's defending champs.

En route to the Vikings' state tournament run last fall was a string of thrilling one-goal victories, including a 2-1 quarterfinal win over the Lumberjacks the last time these two met.

Something will have to give in the sequel, as top-seeded Cloquet-Carlton (18-1) — ranked No. 9 in the Class A state polls — comes in on a 16-game winning streak, while third-seeded North Branch (14-3-1) hasn't been beaten in their past nine outings, including a 4-1 over Princeton in Tuesday's semifinals.

Expect plenty of offense in this one, as the Lumberjacks are averaging 4.2 goals per game — seventh most in Class A — while none of the 187 prep girls soccer teams in Minnesota score more than the Vikings, at a blistering 5.6 netters per night pace.

Cloquet-Carlton will be seeking its eighth state tournament appearance. Their last trip was in 2012, including a section final victory over then Esko-Carlton — one that ended in another shootout win.

~ Tyler Korby

GIRLS SOCCER PLAYOFFS

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Two games into the Section 7A girls soccer playoffs, the Cloquet-Carlton Lumberjacks had outscored their opponents 10-0 and had never been threatened. That all changed Tuesday night in Cloquet when the 'Jacks had to work overtime magic and then some in defeating Chisago Lakes in a 2-1 shootout win. The 'Jacks scored on the 13th kick of the shootout when Kiana Bender buried the ball into the back of the net, setting off a wild celebration at Rol Bromberg Field.

"Chisago is a great team and they played really well," said Lumberjack coach Dustin Randall. "The game obviously could have gone either way by the time we got to the shootout."

Bender gave the 'Jacks a 1-0 lead early in Tuesday's game and that stood for most of the game until the Wildcats tied it up late in the second half, eventually sending the game to a shootout after two scoreless overtime periods. Then Bender sent the crowd into a frenzy when she made the shot that ended the game in the 13th round of kicks.

"I've never gone 13 rounds deep in a shootout, but we do practice them and I stress that everyone should be ready," Randall said. "Our goal is always 80 percent and we were just off that number to sneak through by going 10-for-13. I am exhausted from that one!"

The Wildcats pressed hard to win the game and they did a good job of playing tight defense around the Cloquet forwards, especially the state's leading scorer Kendra Kelley and Bender.

"Kendra and Kiana are tough to stop when they are on their game," Randall said. "They are nearly impossible to stop for 80 minutes if they are playing how they are capable of playing."

Cloquet-Carlton opened the playoffs with a 7-0 romp over Hibbing-Chisholm as Kelley knocked home three goals in a game that saw the 'Jacks open a 5-0 halftime edge. The Cloquet junior is the state's top scorer, with her torrid count of 47 goals. The state record is 64, set by Clare Culligan of St. John's Prep in 2012.

"The Hibbing game was tougher than the scoreline reads," Randall said. "Hibbing came in with a strategy to hold a high defensive line and stuck to it and they played hard. It threw us off a bit and forced us to adjust our game."

The Lumberjacks' first goal of the game was scored by Mac Brummer in the sixth minute. That was followed by goals from Kelley in the 20th, 21st and 32nd minutes of the first half, with the final goal of the half scored by Natalie Hoffman. Cloquet-Carlton added two goals in the second half from Bender and Hoffman to take the first-round victory. Lumberjacks goalie Brandi Nelson recorded five saves in the shutout win.

In the second round of playoffs last Saturday the 'Jacks took a 3-0 win over the Denfeld Hunters as Kelley, Lily Goebel and Bender all scored and Nelson picked up another shutout by making all four saves in the win.

"Denfeld was another tough game and was closer than the score indicated," Randall said. "We got an early break off a corner kick which opened things up for us and in the second half we closed up shop and tried to rotate more players. I thought everyone did an excellent job of doing their part to keep them out of our net and continue to create scoring chances for us."

Next up for Cloquet-Carlton is the Section 7A championship game against North Branch which was a 4-1 winner over Princeton in their section semifinal match. The winner will move on to the state tournament next week.

ESKO FALLS IN SECOND ROUND

After defeating Two Harbors 2-0 in the first round of the 7A playoffs Oct. 12 at home, the Eskomos girls soccer team lost to Princeton in the Section 7A quarterfinals Saturday, Oct. 14. Neither team scored any goals in regulation or during two 10-minute overtimes.

Princeton won 3-1 in a shootout.

Esko goaltender Macy Sunnarborg had 18 saves in the game.