Rangers alter script in sudden death

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Forest Park’s Rachel Lueken, left, Madison Knies, Madisyn Hunt, and Shelby Louden celebrated a goal by their team during the penalty-kick shootout of Tuesday’s Class 1A girls soccer sectional at Bretzville. After a 1-all draw through regulation and overtime, the Rangers prevailed in the second round of sudden-death penalty kicks to knock off 11th-ranked and two-time defending sectional champion Heritage Hills. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

BRETZVILLE — Forest Park had felt the pain before. And as the scene unfolded, the semblance to past woes was eerily noticeable for the Rangers.

But after Ranger senior Rachel Lueken calmly slotted her team’s second goal of the penalty kick shootout, Forest Park goalkeeper Tabbi Steckler stoned Heritage Hills’ fifth shooter to resuscitate the Rangers’ season.

Steckler and Patriot impromptu goalie Dria Oxley then each manufactured a save in the first sudden-death round. Cassie Dilger’s time had come.

As she made the long walk from the midfield line, she felt on the verge of tears. When the Rangers faltered in PKs against the Patriots in the 2011 sectional championship, she had missed her shot in the shootout. In last year’s semifinal thriller with North Harrison, Dilger couldn’t convert in that match’s shootout, either. The tide turned in Tuesday’s Class 1A sectional in Bretzville.

So there she stood. A hushed crowd’s eyes placed solely on the senior.

“Walking up to that line, I was so nervous I was almost crying,” Dilger said. “But once I stepped up to the line, all of a sudden I just had this confidence like, ”˜I can do it.’”

Buried. Upper right side.

Now, Steckler stood in goal.


“I knew she was going to (make the save). I knew it,” Dilger said of her classmate. “I had so much confidence in her, I just had to get that goal for myself. And once I did, I knew it.”

The Patriots had dashed her team’s sectional hopes the past two seasons. Each time in the championship. Each time in overtime. Steckler now had the chance to erase all that.

A low, driven shot to the right. Steckler dove. The ball nestled in her hands.

With three consecutive saves, the senior goalkeeper solidified the Rangers’ 3-2 penalty kick advantage and 2-1 match victory over the 11th-ranked Pats. As she rose from the ground, ball cradled between her right hand and body, a mob of teammates stampeded toward her.

“I was like, ”˜Oh, no,’” Steckler joked in describing her thoughts as her team rushed in her direction. “And then they pushed me over and I fell down. It was the coolest thing ever.”

After sectional championship losses to the Patriots in 2011 and 2012 decided by penalty kicks and overtime, respectively, this was the one the Rangers had long awaited. They struck first, survived a Heritage Hills storming and repressed prior overtime rejection to survive.

“I don’t even have any words right now,” Steckler said, beaming.

The Rangers now prepare for a semifinal skirmish on Thursday against Salem, a 1-0 survivor against Christian Academy of Indiana in the night’s second match.

“After two years of losing to them, this is the icing on the cake. The best feeling in the world,” Dilger said.

The win over their rival arrived somewhat coated in irony. The Rangers (7-9-1) accrued their lowest regular-season win total since 2005. Intrasquad issues hindered progress through the early portion of the year. And even when Forest Park coach Amanda Sicard noticed the team making strides, the results told a different story.

One strike Tuesday installed belief.

With the match scoreless late in the opening half, Ranger midfielder Madison Knies booted a ball forward as Madisyn Hunt chased it down. The freshman surged toward the bounding ball and, with a defender on her side and Heritage Hills goalkeeper Madeline Crews racing from the net, launched a one-time, lefty volley from 20 yards away into the right-side netting.

The finish, Hunt’s 31st of the season, sparked confidence, Steckler said. Yet it had simpler significance as well.

“We came off the field (at halftime) and we were happy,” Steckler said. “And that’s been a struggle for our team all year long, is keeping our confidence up and being happy with each other. So that’s what helped it.”

From there, Steckler turned away shot after shot, playing “the best game of her career,” by Sicard’s estimation.

The Patriots’ scoring opportunities arrived in droves. But even when Karaline Staggs notched her 19th tally of the season off a defensive miscue with eight minutes remaining in regulation, missed chances illustrated Heritage Hills’ primary plight all season, Patriot coach Doug Satterfield said.

“That’s kind of been the trademark of the last half of the season,” Satterfield explained. “We created opportunity — again, in the second half we had four (one-on-ones) with the goalkeeper and three of them went to the goalkeeper and one of them hit the post. If you don’t finish those, you can’t expect to win.

“We did everything except the final thing.”

The Patriots (11-3-3), with their back-to-back sectional title run halted, lose senior anchors Darby Vinson and Olivia Morris, both of whom helped bind a team that yielded just 13 goals through the season. Yet with nine starters returning, the impact of the loss could and should inspire the squad, Satterfield assured.

“I’m not a big subscriber in ”˜a loss makes you better,’ but I think it will make them hungrier,” he said. “These juniors, they’ve known nothing but success at the sectional level. So now, they’ll see this.”

Satterfield pointed behind him to a Forest Park team reveling and singing the school’s fight song, experiencing the sensation they just couldn’t grasp in past years.

“If (Heritage Hills) would have done this early in the season, I don’t know if we would have been able to come back like we did tonight,” Dilger said of the Patriots tying the game. “We started (the season) rocky, but it doesn’t mean when you start rocky you can’t come out on top. That’s what we showed tonight.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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