WARSAW — What a difference a week can make. Unfortunately for Plymouth’s girls soccer team, it wasn’t quite enough to put the Lady Rockies over the top.
Taylor Stuzman scored twice for the Lady Panthers, and the Rockies lost a 2-1 decision to Northern Lakes Conference rival NorthWood in a back-and-forth semifinal at the Warsaw Sectional Thursday.
Plymouth’s players entered the game with the memory of a lopsided 5-0 loss to the Panthers last Tuesday still fresh in their minds. They gave themselves a chance Thursday, but couldn’t quite find the right combination to come away with a win.
“It was a close game,” said Plymouth girls soccer coach Chuck DeWitt. “They scored early, which kind of threw us a little bit off balance, but the girls fought back for the next 38 minutes. They didn’t let them score, and we put one in the net. Allie (Wright) made a tremendous move down there, she was very calm and collected in front of the net and put the ball in, and that evened things out. From there on it was just who was going to get a break and who could make it happen.”
Stutzman opened the scoring in the second minute to push Plymouth on its heels early before Wright evened it up with a close range chip shot off NorthWood keeper Kayley Maggard’s hand with exactly one minute remaining in the first half.
The score remained knotted at 1-all until Stutzman got free on a 50-50 ball that bounced into the Plymouth box a little less than 10 minutes into the second half, and the Panther senior calmly put the ball into the back of the net for the go-ahead. Hayley Maggard made a big save on a long free kick from Kendall Fosler in the 69th minute, and NorthWood held on for a narrow 2-1 win and the right to advance to Saturday’s championship match.
“Stutzman, she’s a very good player and very quick,” said DeWitt. “We made a mistake defensively — we didn’t get a switch and we didn’t get her covered — and she made us pay for that. The girls played the rest of the game out, and we had opportunities, we just weren’t able to capitalize on them. We’re very proud of them and very proud of where they’ve come from and what they’ve done.”
“This time of year is big for seniors. They know it’s win or go home and they’re done,” said NorthWood head coach Phil Ummel. “Taylor is one of our two seniors, and she came up big tonight. She played incredible. That was one of the best games I’ve seen her play. Hayley Maggard in goal is our second senior, and she came up big in the second half. It was good to see our seniors really lead the way. We only have two this year, but they stepped up when they needed to.”
DeWitt was forced to watch the game’s waning minutes from the parking lot after being red carded for arguing with the center official at Thursday’s semifinal.
With roughly four and a half minutes remaining in the game, Plymouth freshman forward Stacy Diaz was tripped up deep in the NorthWood box, and when the potentially game-changing play was deemed a no-call, the Lady Rockies’ boss began to argue the decision.
“The penalty kick would have evened it up, we could have played it out, and I think it would have ended in a shootout,” DeWitt said. “That was the call that needed to be made, and when you get referees that aren’t used to playing in high competition games like that, they want to err on the side of being conservative when they need to step up and do what they’re paid to do.”
NorthWood advances to play the host Lady Tigers in the championship game at the 2A Warsaw Sectional Saturday.
The last time the Panthers and the Tigers met, they finished in a draw, but Warsaw senior striker Meredith Hollar was forced to sit that game out. Ummel and his players are hoping to have their own star forward Val Ostrowski back from a head injury in time for the championship.
“We hung in there. We certainly didn’t play our best game. We were missing our leading goal-scorer tonight, she’s out with a head injury right now and she’s questionable for Saturday as well,” said Ummel of Thursday’s semifinal. “Hopefully we get her back out here because when we have everybody out there we tend to play very well, and we definitely need to play better when we play Warsaw on Saturday.”
The Rockies close out the season at a respectable 9-8 in DeWitt’s second year at the helm. The team bids goodbye to five seniors in Makaela Mahler, Jenna Hite, Becca Houser, Samantha Berg and Kristi Pacheco.
“We won more than twice as many games as we did last year, so that’s a very positive thing,” said DeWitt. “When I look at the seniors leaving, I look at Makaela Mahler, who played out there with a twisted ankle for the last week and a half. She tapes it up and keeps on going, never ever quits. Samantha Berg, very, very solid. I think that in the last month, she’s played the best I’ve seen her play. Jenna Hite gave us some good opportunities to score. She’s come back after missing part of the season early on and helped solidify that. She wasn’t able to get in the starting rotation, but she’s always there, and I put her up front because I really thought she could score; this is her type of game.
“Kristi Pacheco, she got hurt in her fourth game, she has a torn ACL, she’s playing in a brace giving it everything she’s got, and she’s made a big difference,” he continued. “If we had Kristi all season, that back would have been almost unstoppable. Becca Houser was our secondary goalkeeper, and that’s a hard position to play. She played some good games and some good, hard minutes when she was in games. It’s a hard position to play… but she went out there with a very positive attitude and was ready to go in in a second’s notice and played her heart out every time.”
• NORTHWOOD 2,
At Warsaw Sectional
NW — Taylor Stutzman, 2nd minute
P — Allie Wright, 39th minute
NW — Stutzman, 50th minute
Shots on goal: Plymouth 2, NorthWood 3
Saves (goalkeeper): NorthWood 1 (Hayley Maggard), Plymouth 1 (Katie Berg)
Corner kicks: Plymouth 3, NorthWood 5
Records: NorthWood 10-4-3, Plymouth 9-8-0