Haven't we seen this movie before? On Friday, in Stafford, the Mountain View Wildcats and Stafford Indians met on the field for the fourth time this season, and for their second championship game. Yesterday's Northwest Regional Final featured gritty, determined play from both sides, and in the end the Indians replicated their success from the district final a week ago, with a similar 1-0 victory.
"It's hard to beat a team four times," said Lindsey Lysher, whose lone goal secured the victory for the Indians. "We knew we could do it; we had our hearts there and we had our heads in it."
The first half saw a feverish pace as both sides seemed intent to wear the other out. Stafford held a slight advantage in both corners and possession, but stellar defensive play from the Wildcat defense, particularly Ivy Hardcastle, thwarted the Indians' scoring chances. After a breakneck 30 minutes of play, the teams headed to the break, locked in a scoreless tie.
Much like last Saturday's district championship game, the opening minutes of the second half were when when Stafford ratcheted up the intensity. Just five minutes into the half, we would see the only goal, coming off the stick of Lindsey Lysher, giving the Indians a 1-0 lead.
Mountain View attempted to respond, and had a few chances late in the half. With about six minutes left to play, the Wildcats had a 2-on-none odd man rush. Hardcastle sent a beautiful ball into the scoring circle, but at the last second it leapt just over the stick of the surging attacker. That would prove to be Mountain View's closest call.
In the final few minutes, Mountain View head coach Patty Sullivan brought up her entire defense in an attempt to create a favorable matchup as to numbers. This risk-reward strategy gave Stafford a few chances to put away a game-clincher off breakaways, but Wildcat Goalie Sabrina Hill cut off the angle each time, making sliding tackles and giving her defense a chance to get back.
"I told her we were leaving her all alone," said Wildcat head coach Patty Sullivan about the last-second formation shift. "And now I realize we better start doing that more often."
Despite Mountain View's late push for an equalizer, the whistle blew, and the Indians let out a mighty cheer, and began celebrating their Northwest Regional title.
Stafford head coach Dani Woodie reflected on her team's second championship thus far this season. "I'm very proud," remarked Woodie after the game. "These girls have been working hard day in and day out and it's paying off."
Coach Woodie also pointed to adjustments in preparation that her team needs to make to assure that their state tournament run is memorable. "Mentally we're just going to keep on doing what we've been doing," said Woodie. "On the practice field on the other hand, we need to get ready for that turf-type game and that turf-type mentality with our finesse and our strategy game."
Both teams will advance to the state title, and as baffling as this sounds, the table is set, and the bracket is so arranged that the two teams could actually meet again in the state championship game.
Stafford- Lindsey Lysher; 25:13 remaining