Tigers go toe-to-toe with Panthers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It looked like it was going to be a long night for the Albert Lea girls&8217; soccer team at Rochester Century.

The Panthers marched the opening kick down the field and notched their first goal at just under the two minute mark.

But something clicked. The Tigers wheeled around, sunk in their claws and wouldn&8217;t let go.

The hard fought battle ended with the Century taking the match 3-2.

Seven minutes after the opening goal, Albert Lea tied it up when Mariah Maras took a Leah Walters feed, beat two defenders and the charging goalkeeper to put it into the back right corner.

Century had just given up its first Big Nine goal of the season, having outscored their previous four conference opponents 24-0.

The bigger surprise came in the 16th minute when Whitney Wilson took advantage of a Panther foul to stroke a perfect penalty kick into the upper left corner putting the Tigers into the lead.

All through half time and for 50 of the game&8217;s 80 minutes, the Tigers held on relentlessly to their slim one goal lead.

Century coach Karen LaDue certainly said something to rile her team at halftime because the Panthers came back with their claws out.

The second half kept Albert Lea mostly on the defensive, as the bigger school and deeper bench chewed away at the Tiger defense while a heavy mist blew across the field.

If the first half was a balanced display of skill and talent on both sides, the second half was a contest of wills with the stunned favorite pulling out all the stops to prevent the upset and the smaller foe digging in.

More than once, it was Sophie Miller&8217;s speed that denied their outside attackers a decent shot.

But good teams find tiny cracks and in the 65th minute, the Panthers found theirs; threading a shot from the left side just beyond a diving Kendra Olchefske&8217;s fingertips for the equalizer.

Still both teams fought on, but momentum favored the Panthers.

With six minutes left in the game, Century got the goal they needed to maintain their lock on the Big Nine title.

&8220;This team doesn&8217;t judge its games by the final score,&8221; Albert Lea head coach Rick Barnhill said, &8220;but by the quality of their play.

This was Albert Lea&8217;s best played game so far this season.

The Tigers went toe-to-toe up and down the field with a very talented Class AA team and came very close to pulling off the upset.

I was particularly proud of the way the team shook off that early goal and came charging back with two of their own to go ahead.

I feel really good going forward.&8221;