Girls soccer playoffs: Blaine knocks out Duluth East in shootout

BLAINE, Minn. -- In between their turns in net during the shootout, goalkeepers Julia Clifford and Sarah Lyle would tell each other how much they disdained shootouts.

BLAINE, Minn. -- In between their turns in net during the shootout, goalkeepers Julia Clifford and Sarah Lyle would tell each other how much they disdained shootouts.

But after making three consecutive shootout saves, including one in a sudden death round, perhaps Blaine senior Clifford has a different perception of soccer's imperfect method of determining


Senior forward Taylor Rozmark netted the game-winner in the sixth round to give Blaine a 4-3 shootout victory over Duluth East in the Section 7AA championship Tuesday night, sending the top-seeded Bengals (10-5-2) to the Minnesota Class AA high school state tournament for the first time since 1996.

"Every time (Lyle) and I switched, we talked about how much we hated it," said Clifford, who had been in two prior shootouts as a freshman and sophomore. "It's guesswork and reaction, agility and quickness -- it all works together. But I was so glad (when Taylor scored)."


Clifford made 10 saves, while Lyle had six in keeping the game scoreless through regulation and overtime.

"Sarah played her heart out," East coach Steve Polkowski said. "It's tough in that situation because somebody has to either score the last goal or give up the last goal, but the reason we were in that game as long as we were is because Sarah played fantastic -- that's regulation, overtime and shootout."

Each side converted its first three penalty-kick chances before Clifford saved a high shot by Anna Rauzi. Lyle responded by batting out Mandy Stratton's effort to send it to the fifth round, where each goalie again parried opponent's attempts.

"Shootouts are always hard and they are the one thing goalies hate the most," Lyle said. "To go into a shootout, you have to forget everything about the game and focus on the shot. Whatever happens, happens and you have to live with it."

Clifford saved Maggie Yetter's attempt to begin the sixth round, then Rozmark found the upper-left corner.

"I tried to get elevation and do my best, but I missed it by (about a half-foot)," Lyle said.

Rozmark said she always looks to shoot in the same spot, and she couldn't have placed it more perfectly.

"Shootouts are nerve-wracking, but you just have to focus and finish it for your team," she said.


Polkowski said his team had enough chances to win the game, and preferred if the game didn't end on penalty kicks.

"Win or lose, you don't like it to go to a shootout. In a game like this, the best team doesn't always win," he said. "But give them credit. They had a great defense and their goalie played incredibly -- she came off her line better than any goalie we've played against."

Conspicuously, East goal-scoring standout Alex Freeman did not take part in the shootout. The senior striker scored 27 goals this season to rank fifth in the state and holds the school's career record with 76 goals.

"We practiced shootouts the past two weeks and we had the kids ordered the way we were comfortable with," Polkowski said.

Blaine will find out this weekend who it will play in a state quarterfinals, after coaches seed the entrants and a random draw is conducted.

East finished 11-8, a record reflecting the team's difficult schedule.

"We had such a strong team -- not just on the field -- but we were really close off the field, and that's what hurts the most," Lyle said.

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