by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When you’ve pummeled an opponent a week before you meet them in the playoffs, there’s a good chance you’ll be looking past them even though it’s now win-or-go-home time.
That’s what St. Michael-Albertville was counting on they took on Elk River-Rogers-Zimmerman on Friday evening.
The Knights had ERZ on the ropes the whole game but the section’s top-seeded team pulled out the section semifinal 13-11 with Alleah Baltzer providing four big goals down the stretch and five in the game.
“I felt we came out flat and not totally ready to play them,” said Baltzer. “We were a little nervous for a while, but once we pulled ourselves together we took control.”
ERZ (11-3) advanced to the Section 8 championship against Maple Grove (11-4), slated for Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Osseo High School.
STMA, which finished 9-5 in its first year as a school-sanctioned team, almost ended the ERZ season, taking an early four-goal lead. Even after ERZ edged ahead with 10 minutes left, the Knights regained the lead twice more.
“They beat us 24-12 one week earlier, but we did not play a good game, and we knew they have not seen what we are capable of,” said STMA coach Jillian Anderson. “We had a good practice yesterday and I told the girls, tomorrow you guys leave everything you have on the field. And that’s what they did.”
The Knights locked down on ERZ’s two prolific scorers with hustle and double-teaming, holding Mackenzie Perna to three goals and Emily Antony to just one. Antony did make five assists and Perna three. Also scoring were Kelsie Baker, Michelle Klimstra, Courtney Reitad and Alex Zierden.
“They (ERZ) are an amazing team and do a lot of things well,” said Anderson. “We knew when we had that four point lead it was not going to be enough. We had a great game but got a little lazy at the end and missed on some passes.”
Baltzer, a sophomore midfielder from Rogers, twice tied the score, and twice gave her team the lead, down the stretch, rotating into the creases around the net for overhand shots. Her goal with two minutes left gave ERZ a 12-11 edge and Antony finally got one with a minute left for some breathing room.
“They (STMA) really took down our top players, Mac and Emily,” said Baltzer, “and other people had to step up, and I was open for a lot of passes.”
Five goals was a personal best for the sophomore midfielder and the first time she’s led the team in goals. Antony has 72 goals and Perna 58 with Baltzer third on the team with 22.
In goal, Klimstra stopped 10 of 14 shots in the first half, and Kim Scott stopped eight of 15 in the second half. Scott was under heavy pressure and gave up seven goals but made couple big stops after ERZ took its final lead.
Makenzie Bebo led the Knights with four goals. Rachel Bourget, Karissa Pazen and Halie Gudmonson had two each. Their goalie, Carly Walters, held very firm to allow just 13 goals after giving up 24 a week earlier.
ERZ coach Stephanie Anderson credited the Knights with making her team pay for overconfidence. “St. Michael came out very strong, and they knew who our top players are and shut them down right away. I think they got into our girls’ heads for a while.”
The coach cited Baltzer for pulling them through.
“Alleah played great. We knew she could do it.”
With a chance to go to the state tournament, ERZ will now face a Maple Grove team they edged 12-11 in the opener April 22. “That was a game just like this one,” Anderson recalled. So there could be more of the same in the finals.