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Rapid City Stevens forward Ellie Schad stepped up to take a penalty kick in the 61st minute of the Class AA girls soccer state semifinal the same way she would in practice.

It was just a kick, she had done plenty of them before.

This penalty kick, however, sent the No. 2 seeded Raiders to their first ever state championship game as it was the only goal in a 1-0 win over No. 3 seeded Yankton.

"We’ve been practicing them for these moments, and it’s not that big of a deal," Schad said. "It’s like, just do it and don’t think about it too much and it won’t get to you. You just have to know that you need to make, so just do it."

That kind of confidence was the reason that when the Gazelles were called for a handball in the box in the 61st minute of a scoreless game. Stevens coach Luis Usera knew exactly who he wanted taking the kick.

"The reason why I decided Ellie should take that kick is that she’s very calm in her presence, and she just walks up and does the job she needs to do," he said. "It’s a unique feature to have in a player, in that intense of a game, to just walk up like it’s another business trip."

It was an intense game, as in the first half neither team seemed to have an overwhelming edge. Stevens would get opportunities at cracking the scoreboard first, and then Yankton would exchange and get opportunities at the other end.

The second half was more of the same, and Usera said that was to be expected going into the game.

"We play very similar styles of soccer. They’re very strong defensively, their coach has done a great job organizing them," Usera said. "We just kept continually trying to get that ball wide on them and stretch them, and that the moment where we got the handball, there was a bit of panic on their side because we put some much pressure on them."

The handball resulted in a goal, but the final 15 minutes seemed to be an on slot of chances for the Gazelles.

None went in, which is sometimes the way soccer works.

"Sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes the breaks go against you and today that break went for us," Usera said. "Right at the end of the game they had a perfect opportunity that they could have put it in. I think it was just that we were relentless, and I think our fitness was a little better than theirs at the end of the game."

Stevens started the playoffs with a 8-0 win over Harrisburg, followed by a 1-0 win over Sioux Falls Lincoln. Tuesday's semifinal match was already further than the Raiders had been in years, as the last two state tournaments had featured early round exits.

Although Stevens was aware of its history throughout, it didn't let past losses define it through the first three rounds.

"This is a really connected team. The way they’re playing right now is just a mirror of how they are off the field," Usera said. "Things are coming together, they’re working hard for each other and we’re at the stage where they’re leaving no doubts in people’s minds that we belong on the field and deserve to keep playing. They’re playing for their sisters and they’re playing hard."

That sisterhood is, according to Usera, what has gotten the Raiders this far. Now they have one more daunting task, the state championship game Saturday.

The 11-2-1 Raiders will face No. 1 seed Pierre, which topped Sioux Falls O'Gorman in the other semifinal Tuesday, 2-0 to move to 13-1-1 on the season.

It's a big challenge, but the Raiders have faced them before during the season. Now, it'll be 80 minutes of one more challenge for a state title.

"I think with our history, people thought we wouldn’t make it this long. For me, we’re not trying to prove anything because it’s a new team, a new group," Usera said. "We’re trying to take it one game at a time. Every game is the most important game they’ll play.

"If you think about it, today’s game was 80 minutes for the rest of their life, or the rest of their lives they’d be thinking about 'what if?' The state championship will be 80 minutes for the rest of their life. The only ones they have to answer to is themselves, everyone else gets to come along for the ride."

The Raiders and Governors will play for the Class AA girls championship Saturday at 5 p.m. at Sioux Park.

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Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.