SOCCER: Skyline Edges Saline in Epic Playoff Game

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Saline senior Abby Gray makes her penalty kick after two overtime periods failed to settle the score.

DEXTER - For 100 grueling minutes under the hot sun, Saline and Skyline played each other to a scoreless draw.

After two 40-minute halves and two 10-minute overtimes, the SEC Red Rivals settled their district semifinal contest with a shootout, where Skyline outscored Saline, 4-3, to come away with the playoff victory.

Saline finished the season with a 10-7-3 record.

Saline varsity soccer coach Leigh Rumbold couldn't say enough good things about his team's effort.

"You couldn't ask any more from them. To play 100+ minutes on a day like today and the surface slows the ball down a little bit, so you've really got to grind. It was a really competitive game - up and down the whole game," Rumbold said. "I couldn't ask any more for them. They put it all on the line."

Rumbold said ending the game on penalties was a "cruel way to decide" the game.

Saline and Skyline split their regular-season matches. Skyline defeated Saline at Slyline, 2-1. Saline won at home, 1-0. Tuesday's playoff game was held at Dexter, a neutral site with an increasingly rare feature - a natural grass field.

There weren't a lot of great scoring chances for the Hornets. Saline had a few corners and set pieces, but didn't generate dangerous chances from them.

The Hornets' best chance came with 11:30 to play in the second half when Paige Martin on the left flank found Emily Hornberger streaking up the center of the field. Martin's perfectly placed pass was received just after Hornberger cross into the box. The Skyline defender interfered with Hornberger just enough that her shot cleared the crossbar and went slightly over the goal.

In the other goal, Saline sophomore Norah Dawid was definitely the busier of the two goalies - making a couple of diving saves in regulation. In the two overtime periods, Dawid also had the tougher saves to make. But she was calm and cool in the heat and under pressure. 2:30 into the first overtime, Dawid stopped a Skyline shooter on a free kick from just outside the box.

In the second overtime, Skyline was awarded a free kick from even closer. This time, the Hornet "wall" blocked the shot. The Eagles botched a glorious chance in the final 10 seconds of the second overtime, when a cross pass found a striker all alone in the box. The Skyline player kicked the ball wide of the goal.

Rumbold elected to play senior keeper Reese Caryl in the shootout.

"We felt during practices Reese had a pretty good success rate in terms of saving PKs. That was the plan going into it, that if we got there, Reese would step in," Rumbold said.

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The teams headed to the shootout. Saline shot first. Senior Abby Gray deposited her shot into the right side of the goal, beyond the diving goalie who guessed right but couldn't stop the shot.

On Skyline's first attempt, the shooter put it over Caryl and off the bar. The ball bounced almost straight down and then back up and off the bar and out. Officials ruled the ball crossed the goal line and Skyline was awarded the goal.

Junior Zoe Rumohr was Saline's second shooter. Rumohr put the ball into the right side of the cage, about halfway up. Saline led 2-1. Skyline's second shooter faked right and then went left to tie the shootout at 2. Saline junior Chloe Kraft gave Saline the 3-2 lead with a quick strike inside the left post. Skyline tied it with a shot to the right. On Saline's fourth shot, sophomore Ashley Kruse skimmed the top of the crossbar and went high. Skyline took the lead on their next shot, scoring with a shot inside the left post. Saline sophomore Ellie Warden had the tough task of stepping up with the Hornets' season on the line. Her shot went a foot over the bar, clinching the victory for the Eagles.

Rumbold wasn't in the mood to assess the entire season after the Hornets' gutwrenching loss.  He praised the play of some of his senior leaders.

Abby Gray, the four-year varsity player, had a terrific game.

"Monster.  She got through so much work. We started her a little bit higher up the field but today I didn't feel like we were quite moving the ball so we switched her a little bit deeper. She played 100 minutes," Rumbold said. "If he hadn't gone to PKs and had to play another 10 minutes and another 10 minutes, she would have been out there for us."

Senior Lara Kok dominated on defense. Whenever a Hornet got turned the wrong way, Kok was there to gain ground and thwart the Eagles.

"The whole back line was outstanding," Rumbold said. "All of them, Chloe (Kraft), Lara, Audrey (Driskell) and Alli (Friedholm) when she subbed in, they pretty much played man-to-man defense the whole game. They've been doing it all season and not a lot of teams have scored goals against us in open play."

Looking at the shootout selections, it was hard not to see the faith that Rumbold and the coaching staff have in the younger, up-and-coming Hornets. Still, Rumbold took time to mention the contributions of his seniors. It was the final game for Abby Gray, Lara Kok, Paige Martin, Jessi Rein, Emma Bowen, Emily Hornberger and Reese Caryl.

"They showed the underclassmen what it takes, especially in a game like this, they showed what it means to them. You could see after the game, they were absolutely destroyed - devastated that this was their last game," Rumbold said. "They've been fantastic. They've done everything we've asked of them. They've showed the commitment it takes to play varsity - all the work in the offseason to grasp the moment and understand what it means to represent not just Saline High School, but your community."

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