By Pete Hayes, The Telegraph
ALTON — Around the midway point of the second half of Marquette’s Class 1A regional championship game against Roxana, Explorers coach Steve Mitchell was fit to be tied – mainly because the game was tied 1-1.
But Lauren Walsh had what was needed to fix her coach’s ailment – and lift Marquette to the regional championship. Walsh scored with 11:10 remaining, lifting the Explorers to a 2-1 victory over the Shells. Despite outshoting Roxana 23-1, the explorers needed Walsh’s late heroics to stay alive.
“I don’t think (Shells goalie Braeden Lackey) thought I would be able to shoot it,” said Walsh, a former club soccer teammate of the Roxana goalie. “The ball came (from Claire Dalton) and I kind of redirected it, I guess.”
Dalton shot the ball toward the goal from about 18 yards on Lackey’s left. The ball hit Walsh, who was perpendicular to the goal about eight yards away . Despite being tightly marked by Roxana’s Kara Meyer, Walsh got a foot on the ball.
No matter the intent, the result was a goal after the ball slipped inside the right goal post – and keeping Mitchell from an explosion.
“It was a nightmare out there,” Mitchell said. “We had 99 percent of the lay and 23 of the 24 shots taken. The longer it went on, the more frustrated our girls got. They were panicking.”
Marquette (11-9-3) will advance to the Belleville Althoff Sectional Tournament, which will be played at McKendree University in Lebanon. The Explorers will face either Belleville Althoff or Waterloo Gibault. Those teams will play for the championship of the Anna-Jonesboro Regional Tournament art 11 a.m. Saturday in Carbondale.
Roxana coach Lori Yates, while emotional at bidding farewell to her team, was nonetheless wearing an ear-to-ear grin following Friday’s match.
“I know you don’t see too many coaches smile after a 2-1 loss in a regional final,” Yates said, “but I am so proud of these girls. They did exactly what we wanted to do and they played their hearts out. I know (Marquette didn’t think they would have a 2-1 win or be tied 1-1 at halftime.”
Indeed. That halftime tie, thanks to a goal in the 39th minute from the Shells’ Emma Lucas, had the explorers reeling. It came on Roxana’s only shot – of the game, as it turned out.
It was the 22nd goal of the season for Lucas.
“We knew we had to be aware of (Lucas),” Mitchell said. “She’s a great player. But she got free and made a good shot. I think it surprised our goalie (Lauren Fischer) that she got the shot off.”
The Shells, who had lost to Marquette 3-0 during the season, were able to make life difficult for the Explorers by concentrating on defense, keeping eight – sometimes as many as nine or 10 – players behind the ball most of the game.
“Yeah, we did,” Yates said. “we played a double stopper. It worked, too. We knew Marquette is so string up front and flashes so many people in on the goal.”
The Explorers got a 1-0 lead just prior to halftime, in the 34th minute. Adrianna Schindler flicked the ball over Lackey after receiving a chip from Elisa Senno.
“We kept them off the scoreboard until late in the half and again until pretty late in the game,” Yates said. “Our girls played great and (Lackey) was amazing in goal.”
Lackey, a sophomore, made 21 saves, some of the acrobatic variety.
“I felt more relaxed as the game went on” Lackey said. “Marquette is a really good team, but I thought it would be a close game and I wanted to make sure I was able to do what I could to keep it close.”
The Shells bow out at 11-6-2.
“It was a great year for our girls,” Yates said. “It’s sad to see it end, but they went out playing a great, great game.”