Cedarburg girls soccer coach Trent Berg said that the two-goal first half advantage his team earned against archrival and host Homestead in a WIAA sectional semifinal Thursday night was a great thing.
Up to a point.
"You've got the momentum, but then it becomes a mental challenge because sometimes its hard to maintain focus," he said. "In a way, it's the most dangerous thing in the game."
But the Bulldogs (15-3-1) maintained that focus and fought off a second half surge from the second-ranked in state Highlanders (18-2-2) to pull off the 2-1 upset and a berth in Saturday's 5 p.m. WIAA sectional final at Brookfield East against top-ranked in state Grafton (22-2-3).
A berth in next week's WIAA State Tournament at the Uihlein Soccer Complex in Milwaukee is on the line. Homestead had beaten Cedarburg, 3-2, in the regular season.
"The ball just didn't drop for us," said a disappointed Homestead coach Rich Dorn. "We certainly had our chances. Give credit to Cedarburg. They played with intensity and a lot of heart. We didn't quit, but we just didn't convert our chances."
Cedarburg scored both its goals in a span of 2:40 in the first half. Bulldog sophomore midfielder Anny West dropped a corner kick gently into the far right side of the penalty area where sophomore forward Lydia Koenig headed the ball in cleanly from point blank range at the 21:09 mark.
Then at the 23:49 mark, the Bulldogs star midfielder Josee Stiever put her foot to the ball on the right side of the field about 30 yards out and scorched it to the upper leftside of the net for a 2-0 lead.
"The wind held the ball up and they maintained their aggressiveness," Dorn said. "We couldn't get them off the leftside of the field."
After watching the Bulldogs control much of the first half, the Highlanders focused on manufacturing chances in the second half. After a couple of early pushes yielded nothing, captain and defender Lindsay Jagla looped a long free kick into the penalty area, where it bounced among several players before midfielder Kate Wirthlin turned and deftly slapped it into the left side of the goal from about 15 yards out at the 47:30 mark to make it 2-1.
Homestead continued to push and look for the equalizer, but it never came. A few more free kicks were just over the crossbar, or were deftly saved by Bulldog senior goalkeeper Chloe Felmer. In one sequence, she grabbed another long free kick from Jagla and juggled it for a moment right in front of the goal-line but held on.
"That's the way it was going for us all night," said Dorn.
"It was a bit nerve-wracking at times," said Felmer, "but I have a lot of confidence in my team to bail me out if I get into trouble." Felmer finished with seven saves on the night.
Homestead had two good chances in the closing minutes as Olivia Tehan's shot was just wide at the 76:40 mark and Wirthlin was able to cross the ball into the penalty area with about 10 seconds to go only to have Jagla's header saved by Felmer.
"This was actually similar to to the (Whitefish) Bay game (another 2-1 defeat in the regular season)," said Dorn. "It was a crosswind and it was sometimes difficult to adjust to. In situations like this, the wind is sometimes the great equalizier."
"...but it is a tough sectional (widely regarded as the best in the state), and you're going to play good teams every night. Sometimes the odds are just not in your favor."
"It's really too bad, we had such a quality team."
Berg knew what kind of effort it took to beat the state power Highlanders.
"This feels great," he said. "They're always one of the premiere teams in the state and for us to come in here and beat them on their field is amazing. Rich (Dorn) always has his team intense and organized."
"We were fortunate to hold on in that second half."
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