Alexandria senior midfielder Molly Panther had a sour taste in her mouth after Detroit Lakes knocked out the Cardinals in penalty kicks her freshman year.
With her high school career on the line three years later, Panther’s penalty-kick goal lifted the Cardinals in a 2-0 win over the Lakers in the Section 8A quarterfinals last Thursday.
“(Head coach Tom Roos) always says that we have a rivalry with DL,” Panther said. “My freshman year, I was on this team when they beat us in a penalty kick shootout. For me, this was a redemption moment. Senior year, we finally beat them. I was one of the only girls that was on that team that lost to DL. We finally beat DL, and I’m so excited about that.”
Sports have a way of expressing the dramatic. Not only was it Panther’s penalty kick that ended up being the game-winning goal, but the opportunity came after an unfortunate bounce. It was one the Lakers weren’t as fortunate to get just minutes later.
“The ball was sent into the box that came from the left side,” Roos said. “As it came in, it either took a bounce or was deflected off a player and hit the arm of a DL player cleanly. Her arm was in an unnatural position, which led to the penalty. It was just an unfortunate foul. That’s the way the ball bounces sometimes. We had the same thing happen to us where there was kind of a fluky bounce, and we were called on a handball. It was just outside the penalty area.”
Leading up to the kick, Panther tried to keep a clear mind. But after the ball went in, she could breathe a sigh of relief.
“Honestly, not a whole lot was going through my head,” Panther said. “I just tell myself to calm down, you know? I don’t want to think about it too much when I’m out there. When I scored, it was honestly such a weight off my shoulders...Having my team celebrate after that kick felt amazing.”
After Panther’s goal, there were still 18 minutes left on the clock. After the midway point in the second half, Morgan Jones launched a ball from roughly 20 yards out that sniped the top right corner of the goal. It was the insurance tally the Cardinals were looking for to cap off an excellent defensive performance.
“We had been pressuring DL and putting the ball in close without getting shots on,” Roos said. “We told them we need to shoot from the perimeter. It didn’t have to be pretty, but it might be from 25-yards out. It didn’t have to be a perfect set up to be a goal. Of our three forwards, Morgan is the one that’s most likely to shoot from the perimeter rather than trying to beat the defender and get behind them. She’s willing to take a touch to set up a shot. She’s a nice contrast to the other attackers.”
Getting one more late goal was all the Cardinals needed to close out the Lakers.
“Anything could’ve happened in the last 10 minutes with them being down by one,” Panther said. “They could’ve scored and got the momentum heading into overtime. That goal was a big relief for the whole team.”
Alexandria’s win not only punches its ticket to the Section 8A semifinals but also secures another home game. Bemidji upset top-seeded East Grand Forks on Thursday to keep its season alive.
“We played them to a 0-0 tie earlier this season,” Roos said. “Both teams were contentious of their defensive responsibilities and tried not to give up a lot. I would anticipate a low-scoring, exciting game. Bemidji just beat East Grand twice, and they’re an incredibly good team. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Alexandria is two games away from securing a section championship. But for now, the focus turns to the Lumberjacks in the final match at AAHS this season. This game was originally scheduled to be played on Tuesday, Oct. 20. But with bad weather expected, the game was moved to Wednesday night at 7 at AAHS.
“I don’t think Alex soccer has made it this far in a long time,” Panther said. “With all of the things happening in the world, us going further and further is amazing for us. We couldn’t be more excited.”