Clutch free kick sends Shanley to state girls soccer title game with win over Mandan
A goal off a free kick was all the Deacons needed offensively to defeat the Braves on Friday and earn a spot in Saturday's state championship match.
BISMARCK — Set plays and shootout goals are all Mandan has allowed to enter its net in their last two trips to the state tournament.
On Friday evening in front of their home crowd at Starion Sports Complex, one of the former cost the Braves a chance to play for the state title. Fargo Shanley beat Mandan 1-0 on a goal that came off a free kick to send the Deacons to the state title game.
"With (Thursday) and today, we haven't conceded a goal in open play," Mandan head coach Stephen Weston said. "That was something we did at the state tournament last year, we didn't concede a goal in open play."
"I thought we were going to go back into overtime, with how the game was going," Shanley head coach Ryan Christianson said. "Nobody was getting very good looks or finishing their chances."
Both Mandan and Shanley entered the game tired after their opening entry.
Mandan played an excellent defensive game to hold off the East's top seed Fargo Davies in a 1-0 regulation affair, and Shanley outlasted the speedy Bismarck Demons in penalty kicks for a 1-0 win of their own.
"A one-nil win against a really good Davies team, playing the defensive structure we did, took a lot out of us, too," Weston said. "State is a war of attrition, there are three brutal games in three days."
Physical play was a constant throughout.
"It was a tight game all the way through," Weston said. "We're leaving a little frustrated and disappointed, but that's how soccer goes sometimes.
"Soccer's a physical game, it's a contact sport, it's part of the game and I thought we handled it OK."
Each side was shown at least one card, with Shanley earning one in each half and the Braves' Madison Hertz being carded in the first half.
The physical play didn't allow for many grade-A scoring chances, but those that did materialize were split fairly evenly.
"Yellow cards are part of the game," Weston said. "Girls are sometimes disappointed to get a yellow card, but we tell them it's OK, it's part of the game."
Both Mandan and Shanley had excellent scoring chances in the second half. One Braves chance in particular was knocked over the top of the net by Shanley keeper Paige McAllister, which then deflected off the football upright and back down into the net, causing unaware Mandan fans to cheer what they believed to be the go-ahead goal.
As for Shanley's best shot early, it gave Mandan keeper Quinn Carter cause to dive on the ball to ensure no Shanley player could arrive for a follow-up.
"Both teams had good chances, it was hard to get past (Mandan's) defense, because they would drop and we would run out of space to work with," Christianson said. "We couldn't get any shots off on their goalie, their goalie had some decent saves."
With the game all but pegged to go to overtime, a foul just outside the Mandan penalty box gave Shanley its opportunity, and Mia Metzger didn't waste it.
Her shot went right on the Mandan net. It initially looked to be heading over the top of the net, it came down, was just low enough for Carter to briefly get her hands on it, then bounced into the net.
"We haven't scored much off of set pieces this year," Christianson said. "We made it count this time. In situations like that, I let the girls decide who wants to step up, who wants to take the shot, who wants to score the goal."
Weston and his assistant's weren't overly pleased with the call that led to Shanley's goal.
Weston had a discussion with the referee and side judge after the goal, and one of Weston's assistants was shown a red card, but nothing was changing the call.
"I felt that the player went down and there were a lot of players around her and she went down because there wasn't any space, I didn't think anybody had put a tackle in" Weston said. "He felt like someone had stuck their foot out and tripped her, so there was a difference of opinions. That's OK, that's his job and we respect that."
Mandan pushed hard for the equalizer in the final four minutes, even earning what some fans thought might be a penalty shot inside Shanley's end, but the call went against Mandan and the Deacons were able to dribble out the final moments.
"In the first half, we were probably the better team, we had more chances and some half-chances we have to stick in the back of the net," Weston said. "That's something we've struggled at all year, and it came back to bite us at an important time."
While a tough loss for Mandan to take, Weston has a positive outlook on playing for third against West Fargo Sheyenne tomorrow afternoon.
"I talked to the girls in the locker room after the game that it's disappointing we're not playing for silverware or a trophy, but tomorrow we play for courage and for history," Weston said. "We want to set the bar at third so Mandan teams in the future remember that this was the team that got third and if you want to do better than them, you have to get to the final."
As for Shanley, they have to brush off its first two tough games to take on the undefeated Minot Majettes, who shut out West Fargo Sheyenne in the earlier semifinal and are looking to defend their 2021 title.
"We've made every team a tough team," Christianson said. "Minot is undefeated for a reason, but anything can happen at state."