Jillian McCullough, Brenna Mattson and Alexa Snesrud each scored a goal to lead the No. 1-seeded Cloquet-Carlton girls soccer team to a 3-0 victory over Zimmerman Monday night in a Section 7A semifinal at Proctor’s Egerdahl Field.
Cloquet-Carlton (12-1-1) will now face Duluth Marshall for the section championship Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Public Schools Stadium. The Hilltoppers defeated St. Francis 1-0 in the other Section 7A final.
Cloquet-Carlson reached the playoffs with an unbeaten 5-0 conference record, 9-1-1 overall, before dominating Mesabi East 11-0 and securing a 6-1 quarterfinal win over Hermantown.
Monday's dominating effort featured a goal from McCullough in the 11th minute of the first half, and scores from Mattson and Snesrud in the 35th and 39th minutes of the second half, respectively.
Cloquet commanded the first half, shrugging off light snowfall and holding almost all of the half’s possession. Despite holding the ball for the majority of the half, Cloquet’s halftime lead was just 1-0 thanks to McCullough's goal.
McCullough’s aggressive performance on the right wing earned her a golden opportunity following a low crossed ball from the left wing, which found its way to her feet in the far side of the box. McCullough struck the ball into the far corner, earning her sixth goal of the season.
Zimmerman (11-3-0), which topped Two Harbors 2-1 and Esko 3-2 in the first two rounds, played a pragmatic half, absorbing a great deal of pressure and relying on long balls from the backline up to the awaiting forwards to bring about a handful of chances. The Thunder came closest to scoring when Reese Rivers rose high into the hair to head the ball in, only to send it left of the near post.
Much of what Cloquet-Carlton got right in the first half came through captain Brenna Mattson, who played box to box and frequently created the team’s best chances through passes out to the wings and runs to the edge of the Zimmerman box. Mattson combined well with Katie Turner, with the duo looking extremely threatening throughout the first half.
The flow of possession stayed much the same in the second half, with early drama when a Zimmerman defender handled the ball on the goal line just three minutes in. A red card was given and Mattson stepped up to take the penalty, but sent it wide to the right.
Cloquet-Carlton would have to wait another 20 minutes when Mattson took control of a rebounding ball on the edge of the box and curled a strike into the top left corner. Snesrud would add a third score, her 18th of the season, in the closing moments of the match.
Cloquet-Carlton, while facing only a few shots to the net, maintained a sturdy defense with goalkeeper Gracie Meagher commanding her backline well and defenders Mireye Moose and Sadie Senich doing well to close out the second half and remove any threat of a comeback.
The same can be said for Zimmerman’s Josephine Rowley, who gave a glowing performance in the net for the Thunder. Rowley at one point pulled off a triple save to keep her team in the game in the second half and proved vital to keeping Cloquet-Carlton to only three goals on the night.