Wolves survive and advance
VALPARAISO — Kicking and Screaming may not have been the best movie in Will Ferrell’s filmography, but for the Michigan City girls soccer team, it sums up their Thursday night in the sectional semifinal against Merrillville perfectly.
Thanks to goals from sophomores Olivia Shinn and Mary Pat Kelley, and a couple of saves from sophomore goalkeeper Aryanna Hartsburg, the Wolves survived a scoreless 80 minutes, two seven-minute extra time periods and a penalty kick shootout against the Pirates to advance to Saturday afternoon’s championship.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Wolves coach Michael Ramsey said after his team won 2-1 in penalties. “Standing there on the sideline, it’s like agony and ecstasy at the same time [laughs]. It was great. Merrillville played great. They improved since the last time we played them and we didn’t get or take as many chances as we took last time. It was awesome. It was an awesome sectional game. Both teams played hard. We could’ve gotten on the bus if we would’ve lost this one and I would’ve been proud of the girls.”
Chances were limited in the first 80 minutes of play, with both teams registering just 11 total shots on target and only a couple registering as a real a-plus chance for either side.
Wolves freshman Maggie McLinden had a bouncing ball find her right foot in the 6-yard box after a deep free kick from Kelley pinballed around the 18-yard box, but Merrillville keeper Myjae’ Armstrong made a strong effort to save the shot attempt and keep the game scoreless going into halftime.
The two sides slugged their way through a second half that featured four total corners and only one real chance again for McLinden, who just missed making it a 1-0 contest in the 59th minute with her right-footed strike in the box sailed just wide of Armstrong and the right post.
City earned three corners in the span of 55 seconds in the first extra time session, but neither team could register that breakthrough tally.
Merrillville elected to shoot first and got its lone goal of the shootout on the foot of junior Brisa Sanford. Shinn scored on City’s first attempt to level the shootout at 1-1 and Hartsburg denied a shot right at her off the right foot of Pirates freshman Brooke Conner.
“I knew as soon as I made mine, I knew my teammates could make their kicks,” Shinn said. “The energy was just so high for us after that.”
Kelley netted the second City goal of the shootout and with the 2-1 advantage, Hartsburg made “a world-class save”, according to Ramsey, to keep the advantage with the Wolves in the third round.
“She was outstanding,” Ramsey said. “During the game, she was in charge ... didn’t fumble the ball, kicked everything away cleanly, did everything else well. In the penalties, the one save she made was right at her, but the other one was ... wow, diving to her right ... that was a proper save to win a sectional game.”
Hartsburg was “scared to death” before her high-caliber save that marked the climax of the shootout after neither team could find the mark in the next four attempts.
“It’s been a while,” Hartsburg said with a big smile. “I just knew I wanted it.”
After Pirates sophomore Amani Alvarez’s penalty drifted wide left, the Wolves sprinted out onto the field to join Hartsburg in a loud celebration that made Ramsey’s face light up.
“Watching that final explosion after it was over was just so cool,” Ramsey said. “The girls earned it. I’m really happy for them because they worked hard for this.”
A stern challenge awaits on Saturday in a 16-win Valparaiso squad that defeated Chesterton 4-1 in the first semifinal at Viking Arena, but the mood couldn’t be any better for a Wolves side that eclipsed their win total of a season ago (three) with the victory.
“We know Valpo is tough, but we’re just gonna play with our hearts and we just wanted to get through this game,” Shinn said. “Whatever happens, happens.”
“We got the win tonight,” Hartsburg said. “We got a lot of young talent and we can definitely try our best and get to where they are some day soon.”
Reach Michael Whitlow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4169. Follow him on Twitter @couldbelikemike.