The Rapid City Central girls' soccer team traveled to Yankton Thursday night looking to hand the Gazelles their first loss of the season and punch its ticket to the Class AA state title game.
While neither team was able to find the net most of the way, Yankton only needed to do so once as it scored in the second half and held off the Cobblers for a 1-0 victory in a semifinal matchup at Crane-Youngworth Field.
Both defenses played a stingy game from the outset, leading to a scoreless tie at the half.
Not for lack of trying, though, as Madison Schroeder nearly gave the Gazelles the early lead with about 14 minutes to play in the opening half when her shot went just left of the net.
Schroeder was the eventual hero, finding the back of the net in the 67th minute on an assist from Jaiden Boomsma.
The Cobblers had opportunities to score throughout the match as well, but thanks to the play of Yankton goalkeeper Saddie Fedders, the Gazelles held on to the win.
While his team wasn’t able to score the equalizer the rest of the way, Central coach Mark Morgan believed they played as well as they have all season.
“I can honestly say I think the girls played their very best game today,” he said. “We played an absolutely fantastic possession game and made very few mistakes. I couldn’t have asked for much more other than finishing. Their goalkeeper (Fedders), did a great job, she made some fantastic saves and we just couldn’t get a shot behind her.”
Morgan also gave a lot of credit to the team’s back line, which he said kept the Gazelle offense in check, while creating opportunities for the offense on the other side of the field.
“They were really smart, kept the ball in front of them and worked really well with each other," he said. "Yankton’s game is forward fast and they try to move the ball and our back line did a good job keeping Boomsma in check and limiting her ability to make those crosses. They did an absolutely amazing job on ball possession and combination play.
“There were so few mistakes made, and it was really a joy to watch them play off of each other tonight. They kept creating opportunities for our forwards and our forwards did a great job moving into those spots and playing off of each other to retrieve the ball. Unfortunately, their goalkeeper was always in the right place at the right time.”
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With the end of the season, comes the end of some high school soccer careers as the Cobblers had four seniors close out their tenures.
Not just seniors, but some important pieces to the puzzle, as the team will be without Shelby Bell (goalie), midfielders Emma Avery and Sydney Pike, and forward Alexa Henry.
“The four seniors had a fantastic match and they will be greatly missed by this team,” Morgan said. “The only good thing is that we are only losing four, so the team will remain strong going into this next year.”
Morgan added that he thinks a big reason the team played so well, is that they were able to get past crosstown rival Rapid City Stevens in the quarterfinal round.
In the two previous matchups, the teams played a 2-2 draw, and the Raiders picked up a 2-0 victory late in the regular season.
“We really did peak at the end of the regular season," Morgan said. "It helped us to play Stevens in the quarterfinal. It was such an emotional game that going into this game, the girls were so relaxed. It was as if we already played our championship against our crosstown rival. I think that was a big factor in how well we played tonight.”
With the win, the Gazelles will take on Aberdeen Central for the AA title in Harrisburg on Saturday.
For the Cobblers, the season wraps up at 9-3-2.
Morgan said the only negative from Thursday's loss was not being able to watch this group play for a state title.
A group he believed could have won that state title.
“As a coach, I have just been so lucky to have a great group of girls who get along so well and play so well together," he said. "That is how you get that combination. I am just a little disappointed they won’t have a chance to get into that final round. I think they would have had an excellent chance to win the title."