by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
This game was more exciting than the Elk River-Rogers-Zimmerman girls wanted, or expected.
But the Elks were able to stave off Osseo-Park Center’s spirited upset bid 11-9 on Tuesday evening in the first round of Section 6 lacrosse playoffs.
The Elks (10-4) led 7-2 at one point but OPC stormed back to tie the score at 8-8 and 9-9. After that, the Elks limited the Orioles to one goal in the final 15 minutes while pulling back in front on goals by Mackenzie Perna, Emily Antony and Kayla Mills.
“It got a little nerve-wracking for a while,” smiled Perna. “Osseo is a good team but I don’t think we played as well against them as we against top teams like Champlin Park.”
It was ERZ’s home game, but played at Osseo because of their excellent turfed football field. ERZ plays home games on an open field with no bleachers.
ERZ coach Jeannette Bankes praised OPC’s effort.
“Their energy level was higher than ours because the were the underdog,” she said. “I told the girls thanks (for winning) but you better pick it up because that’s not going to beat Holy Family (on Thursday). You can never let down.”
Antony notched three goals while Perna, Mills, and Jordan McLaughlin had two each, and Becca Leshovsky added one, as the No. 5 seeded Elks held off No. 12 OPC (3-11).
Rachel Cooper scored four goals, Michelle Musil three, and Arianna Marciniak and Madi Malone one each for OPC. Their freshman goalie Maddy Kuras foiled several ERZ attacks, and was especially tough on top-shelf shots.
“Their goalie was phenomenal,” said Bankes.
ERZ beat OPC 14-8 on May 7 and had a big early lead in the rematch before they suddenly found themselves fighting to stay alive in post-season.
“I think they (OPC) finally calmed down,” said ERZ goalie Tori Herrmann about the the first 10 minutes of the second half when OPC turned an 8-4 halftime deficit into an 8-8 tie, then 9-9.
Herrmann, who stopped 13 of 22 shots overall, said the Elks stabilized when “our defense started doubling up on people like we’ve been trying to get everybody to do all year, and that helped a lot.”
When OPC caught up, and had outscored the Elks 6-1 over a 20-minute span, Perna immediately responded with a determined rush to the goal that resulted in a “shooting space” infraction and a penalty shot, which Perna made by bouncing it past Kuras.
“She is a talented goalie and I could not score on her high.”
OPC tied the score again on a breakaway by Musil, and this time Antony rifled one past Kuras with 3:05 left to regain the lead.
The Elks went into a holding pattern and got the clincher with 1:01 left when Mills circled to the front of the net, got a perfect feed for Perna and zipped it past the goalie waste-high.
“Our big three (Antony, Mills and Perna) tend to go upper-shelf,” said Bankes, elated that the last three goals came on lower missives, away from the goalie’s strength. She added, “Our percentage (of successful shots) was about half what we normally get. We were forcing it a lot.”
The Elks will face No. 4 Holy Family Catholic, which beat No. 13 Cooper 17-2, on Thursday at HFC’s field in Victoria (near Chaska), beginning 5 p.m. The winner will likely face top-seeded Eden Prairie in the semifinals of the 15-team section.