CHASKA — Stillwater will be playing in the third-place game for the third year in a row after falling to defending state champion Blake 13-8 in Thursday’s state semifinal at Chaska High School.
The second-seeded Bears (15-3), who also defeated Stillwater 13-8 earlier this season, jumped out to an 8-1 halftime lead and maintained a comfortable margin throughout the second half to advance to the state championship game for the eighth consecutive year.
For the first time in the history of the state tournament, however, Blake will not be facing rival Eden Prairie in the finals after fourth-seeded Lakeville North upset the Eagles 13-12 in overtime. Eden Prairie and Blake have met in the finals in each of the previous state tournaments.
“We definitely wanted it out there and gave it our all,” Ponies senior Katie Casto said. “It’s really difficult. This is our third year at the state tournament and we’ve been close every time, but I think we’re going to get it soon.”
The Ponies (15-3), who only losses this season are to Blake (twice) and Eden Prairie (16-6 on May 21), will face the Eagles in the third-place game on Saturday at Chanhassen High School. Stillwater has finished fourth at state each of the past two years.
“We’re going to try and finish on a high note,” Casto said. “We’re going to play a good team and we’ll give it our all.”
Only two teams from Minnesota have scored 10 or more goals against the Bears this season — two of their losses came against New Trier and Montini Catholic of Illinois — and Blake stymied the Ponies with strong defense again on Thursday.
The Ponies did not lack for opportunities, but just seven of their 18 shots in the first half — not including 8-meter shots — were on net, and goaltender Hannah Magarian was sharp while stopping five of those.
“In the first half I think we had 20 shots or shots on goal and came away with two points,” Stillwater coach Rick Reidt said. “I don’t know if it was so much their goalie as it was just we weren’t putting it into the net. If you’re not putting it in the net, it’s hard to stay with a good team.”
Highly touted Lydia Sutton opened the scoring for the Bears in the first minute of the game and also scored with about six minutes remaining in the first half to build an 8-1 lead. Remi Larson scored in the final two minutes of the half and Kate Sheely scored the first of her three goals less than three minutes into the second half for Stillwater, but the Bears responded with four straight tallies to grab a 12-3 lead.
“You can’t have mistakes,” Reidt said. “Blake is a great team, but it didn’t always bounce our way or we didn’t put the ball in the back of the net when we had chances. I just think we need to play a little bit better game and cut down on our mistakes and keep working hard. We have a bunch of dedicated girls that work very hard year-round and we’ll just keep moving forward.”
Stillwater did score four times in the last six minutes of the game, including goals by Emma Wiessner, Remi Larson, Carter Sanderson and Sheely, to pull within five goals.
“We came back in the second half and I thought our team played 100 percent so that’s all you can ask for,” Reidt said.
It was also a tough game for two of Stillwater’s top players as Dana Almquist suffered a shoulder injury in the first half and Bonine sustained a sprained ankle late in the game.
The Bears held Almquist — the state’s leading scorer this season — to just four shots in the entire game, two of which were on goal. The senior averaged nearly six goals per game during the regular season.
“They just face guard her really tight, but the thing is, we had plenty of shots,” Reidt said. “They were face guarding Dana, but we had plenty of opportunities to score.”
Stillwater 2 6 — 8
Blake 8 5 — 13
Goals — St, Kate Sheely 3, Remi Larson 2, Carter Sanderson 2 and Emma Wiessner; Bl, Lydia Sutton 3, Olivia Nolan 3, Jordan Chancellor 2, Annie Lyman 2, Nicole Kozlak 2 and Anne Slusser.
Assists — St, none; Bl, Slusser 4, Sutton and Chancellor.
Saves — St, Marie Bonine 3-3—6; Bl, Hannah Magarian 5-4—9.
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stillwater 17, Elk River/Zimmerman/Rogers 8
Blake 15, Robbinsdale Armstrong 5
Eden Prairie 18, Champlin Park 0
Lakeville North 16, Burnsville 12
Blake 13, Stillwater 8
Lakeville North 13, Eden Prairie 12 (OT)
Robbinsdale Armstrong 15, Elk River/Zimmerman/Rogers 7
Burnsville 11, Champlin Park 9
Consolation — Robbinsdale Armstrong vs. Burnsville at Chaska, 3 p.m.
Third place — Stillwater vs. Eden Prairie at Chanhassen, 1 p.m.
First place — Blake vs. Lakeville North at Chanhassen, 5 p.m.