East Ridge girls headed to State
It wasn't lady-like, but it was historic.
The inaugural East Ridge girls soccer team is heading to the State Class A Tournament after taking down Simley, 3-1, in the Section 4A final on Saturday evening.
Dreadful field conditions on the small, chewed-up and waterlogged natural-grass pitch at the Inver Grove Heights-based institution led to a grimy contest that turned acrimonious in the second half as the Raptors posted two late goals to pull off their third "upset" win of the sectional.
Raptors persevere over mud, determined hosts
After a 15-minute delay for lack of referees, the final got started as the sun struggled to find its way out of woolen skies. Simley came hard-charging out of the gate against an East Ridge team that found the footing more than difficult from the start.
The first of East Ridge's three yellow cards in the match came out early for forward Anna Solheim, who the lead referee found fault in after a collision with the Spartans' goalkeeper Tiana Elliot and a Simley defender.
While Solheim went to the Raptors bench until the next substitution, Elliot was assisted off, appearing to have suffered a facial wound.
Spartans forward Jordin Melchert donned the back-up keeper's jersey and took up position between the pipes.
After surviving another Simley attack -- the Spartans launched four corner kicks at the ERHS net in the match's first six minutes -- the Raptors broke back up field with Solheim leading the way.
Midfielder Aileen Scheibner hit the sophomore on the fly with a long pass in the center of the swampy pitch and Solheim did the rest, fending off a defender up the left side before depositing the game's first goal past Melchert and inside the far post in the 19th minute for a 1-0 Raptors lead.
Elliot relieved Melchert following the tally, with the latter re-assuming her forward position.
Melchert's classmate, midfielder Bree Battis drew the Spartans even in the 28th minute with a chip shot goal from outside the box that ERHS keeper Kim Clinch could not quite handle before stepping backward over the goal line with the ball as Simley leveled matters 1-1.
East Ridge saw two golden opportunities to take the lead before the break stuffed by Elliot, who showed little side-effects of her run-in with the hulking Solheim just 20 minutes earlier.
The two would collide again, this time with the forward getting the worst of it as the on-site trainer came out to check Solheim's left knee before the goal-scorer would walk off under her own power to return in the second half.
Simley began the second half much as it had the first half, putting severe pressure on the Raptors defense deep in the visitor's zone.
A physical game became more-so as sophomore midfielder Mackenzie Lewis was called for a yellow card in the 51st minute for dropping Elliott with what appeared to be an almost karate kick while attempting to deflect home a free kick from outside the box.
The Raptors earned a suspect third yellow in the 74th minute, shown to junior Josie Brinkman after the forward stepped on and over a Simley defender as the two became tangled in a midfield play.
By that point, the contest -- given the weight of situation as well as the sloppiness of footing -- had gone from idly physical to near-donnybrook as both sides passionately played for the victory.
The eventual triumph would go to the black and gold -- and by this time, earthen brown -- with East Ridge forcing home the eventual game-winner in the 76th minute off a Solheim corner kick.
The sophomore sent the set play ball arcing towards the Spartans goal, where the first to meet it was Elliott.
However, the leaping keeper could not hold on to the muddied sphere, instead sending it deflecting off the crossbar and down into a trio of players off the far post -- where Schiebner was waiting to plant it into the tethers for a 2-1 Raptors' advantage.
"Anna kicked it in and it bounced off the goalkeeper and a defender," Scheibner said. "I was just there to put it back in."
The goal sent the soiled East Ridgers into elation, before Simley nearly knotted the count once again on its ensuing offensive push just seconds later.
However, Clinch hauled in the shot and promptly fired the ball back into play across the quagmire, where the ball eventually found Solheim yet again on the breakaway and she clinched the crown with a lightning bolt past Elliot and into the latticework with just over three minutes to play.
The final moments passed without further incident before the final horn sounded out a clarion call that East Ridge -- less than two months removed from playing its first games (including a 1-0 loss to Simley) -- was the new Section 4A champions.
"I'm just so happy," Scheibner said. "It feels great, especially being it is our first year -- I'm so excited for State."
Not all were so pleased as Simley players, congratulated one-by-one by members of the Raptors club upon receiving their second-place medals, refused to return the traditional gesture -- apparently showing their resentment to those that defeated them by turning their backs and huddling as East Ridge players were hastily delivered their awards.
The Spartans, seeded third in 4A and a 3-0 victor over second-seeded and fifth-ranked St. Croix Lutheran on Thursday, concluded their season with a 11-6-5 record.
On to Roseville for State quarterfinals
East Ridge, the No. 5 seed in the section, earned a No. 3 State slot after bumping off Simley, fourth-seeded South St. Paul, Simley and top seed Mahtomedi -- the 2008 Class A champ and No. 3-ranked team in the state heading into the postseason -- following an opening-round victory versus St. Paul Johnson in the home finale.
The Raptors (13-6-1) were ranked No. 12 in Class A heading into the sectional.
The opening round of the state tournament will be played at Roseville Area High School, on a fieldturf surface similar to that found at The Raptors' Nest. This is good news to a team that has found its up-tempo passing game hampered by increasingly poor field conditions on soggy grass fields in South St. Paul, Mahtomedi and Simley.
"It was very difficult tonight," Scheibner said of the practical peat bog that passed for a playing surface at Simley. "We couldn't play our usual game. It will be nice (to be on turf) so we can pass the ball around and play our game again."
East Ridge, seeded just fifth in the sectional, earned the No. 3 seed for State behind only Orono and Blake, seeded first and second, respectively. Only the Orioles and Bears were ranked higher in the final coaches poll.
The Orioles, ranked second in Class A at the end of the regular season toppled top-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret, 1-0, in the Section 6A final, while sixth-ranked Blake took down fourth-ranked St. Paul Academy by the same score in the Section 3A title match on Saturday.
None of the other Class A State qualifiers -- La Crescent (Section 1), Mankato West (2), Rogers (5), Cloquet (7) or Elk River (8) -- were among the 18 teams receiving votes in the final coaches poll on Oct. 13.
East Ridge will play Cloquet in the State quarterfinal on Thursday at Roseville High School at 5:30 p.m.