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Written by Steve Ostermann   
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 14:23

Shootout heartbreaker in state semifinals ends season for gritty Grafton soccer team

The tears, bowed heads and consoling hugs said it all.

COACH DON ARNOLD consoled his players after the Grafton girls’ soccer team lost to Waukesha West in the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals.       Photo by Sam Arendt

Try as they might, members of the Grafton girls’ soccer team couldn’t escape the harsh reality of a season-ending loss one day shy of their goal — a spot in the WIAA Division 1 state title game at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

After battling Waukesha West in an intense semifinal match last Friday night that was scoreless through 100 minutes of regulation and two overtimes, the Black Hawks saw their dream of winning it all dashed.

West advanced to the final after prevailing, 4-2, on penalty kicks in a shootout.

“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of the way our girls played in this game,” Grafton coach Don Arnold said after reminding his squad of its many accomplishments.

“They gave everything they had out there. We had some great opportunities to win it, but so did Waukesha West. It’s a shame that a game like this has to be decided on penalty kicks, but that’s the way it goes.”

Cassie Blase gave West the last word when she slipped a shot past Grafton goalkeeper Alissa Viste on the fourth set of penalty kicks. The score gave the Wolverines an insurmountable lead in the five-set shootout, during which Grafton missed two of its four attempts.

Although the game was officially counted as a tie, the Hawks found little consolation in seeing a stellar season end with a 24-2-4 mark. Missed scoring chances haunted Grafton, which piled up a 21-9 edge in shots but couldn’t crack keeper Stephanie Hendren and a West defense that didn’t allow a goal for the 12th straight game.

ANGIE MANN (right) raced past a Waukesha West defender during Grafton’s state tournament game Friday.                    Photo by Sam ArendtHannah Eichler had the Hawks’ two closest misses in regulation.

In the 23rd minute, the junior forward tracked down a free ball behind the West defense and launched a shot from the right wing that bounced off the far post.

In the 79th minute, Eichler again eluded a defender at the top of the box and drove a shot toward the upper half of the net. However, Hendren punched the ball over the crossbar and then corralled a loose ball in the box on Grafton’s ensuing corner kick.

The Wolverines, who improved to 21-0-4, also had several scoring opportunities. Their best chance came in the 74th minute when Leah Seib sent a shot past Viste only to have the ball cleared at the last second by Emma Fatla.

“Both teams had their chances. It was pretty even,” Eichler said. “We worked really hard the whole game, but we couldn’t get a goal.

“I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

As stingy as West’s defense was, the Hawks remained confident they would find the net, according to Arnold.

“We looked at game film and saw some things we thought we could do against them,” he said.

“We really kept the pressure on them and kept working hard. There wasn’t any question we could score, but it just didn’t happen.”

Both teams stepped up attacks in the 10-minute overtimes.

A West run early in the second extra period ended when a ball sent into the box was cleared. In the 97th minute, Eichler centered the ball to Fatla, but her shot soared over the net.

The shootout quickly turned in West’s favor when attempts by Carley Pfannerstill and Eichler both sailed wide. Alyssa Arnold and Tess Safstrom scored for the Hawks against Hendren, but the Wolverines converted all four of their tries against Viste.

“We liked our chances going into the shootout,” coach Arnold said. “We’ve had a number of games decided by penalty kicks this year, so it wasn’t anything we weren’t comfortable with. But you never know how these things will work out.”

For Eichler, the loss was a bitter experience, but one she tried to put in perspective amid the postgame somberness.

“We have a lot to be proud of this year. We accomplished a lot,” she said. “It’s just really hard to have it end this way.”

Grafton, a young team with only one senior — defender Cassey Patula — on its roster, had one of its best seasons ever. The Hawks won a share of their first North Shore Conference title and set numerous records, including most victories, on the way to their fourth consecutive state appearance.

West appeared in its fifth straight state tournament but again failed to win a championship. On Saturday, the Wolverines fell to Appleton North, 1-0, in the title game.

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