Minus 13 seniors off last season's state tournament team, this might have been a bit of a down year for the East Ridge Raptors.
Instead, the host Raptors overcame visiting Mounds View in the Section 4AA finals Tuesday, Oct. 17, winning 2-1, to earn a second straight trip to the girls state soccer tournament.
"Tonight was won with heart and effort," said East Ridge head coach Tim Bunnell. "It was really just about giving everything they had. Two great teams, two super dynamic teams. I think each team could have scored five or six goals tonight. But the girls battled, the defense held up. Bend but not break has kind of been our policy all year and we got just enough. Linnea stepped up and hit a huge shot right at the end there."
As has been their style several times this season, the Raptors came through when the pressure was on. East Ridge trailed 1-0 early and the two teams were still tied with 21 minutes to play when Raptors junior forward Linnea Yacovella powered home the game-winning kick with 20:47 to play.
"We worked really hard to get it up the field," said Yacovella. "Mackenize (Werner) crossed it and it went through Kendall's (Stevenson) legs and I just hit it in. I just really wanted to get it in so I kicked it as hard as I could.
"I'm feeling awesome," Yacovella added. "We worked so hard this whole year. This is like totally ours. I think we deserve this and I'm so excited for state."
The Raptors' defense — including a pair of clutch saves in goal — held up the rest of the way.
"As a team we passed it very well and we got the goals that we needed," said Stevenson. "And we played very good defense."
East Ridge topped Mounds View 1-0 during the regular season, and this game was just as tight.
The match was a battle of underdogs. East Ridge knocked off seventh-ranked Stillwater 2-1, while Mounds View topped top-seeded and fifth-ranked White Bear Lake 1-1 in overtime to reach the section finals.
"We were the underdogs, we wanted it really bad, so we got the win," said Stevenson.
East Ridge improved to 12-6 with the section final win. Fourth-seeded Mounds View ended its season at 12-5.
The Raptors got hot at the perfect time this fall. East Ridge was just 3-4 in their last seven regular season games, but won three straight 2-1 games in section play to advance to state.
"We didn't get technically better, but our heart grew," said Bunnell. "And we became more engaged in the game and we stayed incredibly positive through some adversity. We got down each of the last two games one-nothing and came back in both of those games. I think they kind of really began to believe that they could do something."
The next game for the Raptors will be Thursday, Oct. 26, at a neutral location depending on the matchups and the state tournament seeding. The semifinals and finals will then be held at U.S. Bank Stadium Oct. 31 and Nov. 2.
Ninth-ranked Eagan, No. 4 Maple Grove, No. 2 Wayzata, No. 3 Andover, Lakeville North and St. Michael Albertville join the Raptors as Class 2A state qualifiers, with one spot left to be filled in the eight-team field between Edina and Minnetonka.