WARSAW — Given the teams’ recent history, Warsaw coach Jon Hoover knew his No. 19-rated Tigers’ sectional championship showdown with 10th-ranked Homestead was going to be a one goal-type of game. After all, it had been in the two sides’ previous two meetings.
Hoover was right, but unfortunately for Warsaw, the Tigers remained on the wrong side of the equation as history repeated itself, and the Spartans defended their sectional title with a 1-0 victory over the hosts Saturday night.
“We were in that game the entire time,” said Hoover. “We were a little undisciplined with how we tried to attack. At no point did I feel like we weren’t working hard. We worked really hard, but the way we were trying to attack I felt like we were a little undisciplined in that. And credit to Homestead, they did a solid job pushing us and causing our players to start at different places on the pitch. For us, I think it was just a lack of discipline on our part to be content to step on the ball and to move it around and to attack in numbers instead of just countering.”
Playing with the wind at their backs, the Spartans found the back of the net early when Madison Morris won a 50-50 ball at midfield, then quickly ripped a hard shot at Warsaw keeper Kierstin Parker from nearly 30 yards out. Parker knocked down the shot but it still found a way to bounce in and around her to give Homestead the advantage less than eight minutes in.
“It was just one of those things where they got the first goal, and they got to win the first half. I think we were hoping to win that coin toss to get a chance to win the first half, but they got it, they scored, and we were playing catch-up the rest of the way,” said Hoover.
Parker finished the night with 11 saves, more than a few of them quality stops in a strong effort in goal for Warsaw. It was a particularly inspired effort given the fact that it was only her second game at keeper this season. After losing starting keeper Brielle Harrison to an eye injury in a game at Carroll a week ago, the Tigers have been making do with a rotating cast of goalies throughout this week’s sectional.
“Kierstin Parker, she’s a field player that was playing in goal, and she’s actually a really great goalkeeper,” explained Hoover. “We lost our starting goalkeeper a week ago at Carroll, so you just kind of add that to the list. It’s always been the next man up philosophy where we’ve got to put our best people in position to win the game, and I felt like tonight our best goalkeeper was actually a field player. Kierstin is a phenomenal goalkeeper. She hasn’t been in in awhile, but I could tell she was starting to get more and more comfortable as the game went on. She made some great saves. One got by her. That is unfortunate, but at the same time she kept us in the game with a couple big ones.”
As you might expect in such a tightly-contested game with championship stakes on the line, Saturday’s sectional finale was physical throughout and at times crossed the line into outright chippiness. Three yellow cards were shown in the second half — one to Abby Steffensmeier in the 45th minute, one to teammate Corissa Koontz in the 50th minute and one to Homestead’s Morgan Kaiser in the 54th minute. Attacking mid Tes Berelsman rolled her ankle after a hard slide tackle in just the 32nd minute and was never able to return to the game for the Tigers.
“Any time you take a player like Tes off the field, you’re going to feel it somewhere. She’s a solid player. She’s a threat to score. She moves the ball well,” Hoover said. “Again, it’s the adversity that our team faced that they’re just pushing through all season long. Again, it was a next man up philosophy. Tes was cheering her heart out on the bench. Some injuries you can play through, some you can’t, but it was swollen to the point she couldn’t run on it. If she could have, she would have.”
Homestead moves on to face McCutcheon — which edged host Lafayette Harrison in a penalty kick shootout for the Sectional 5 title Saturday — at the Logansport Regional next Saturday at noon. Carroll and No. 2 Noblesville play in the early semifinal with the championship on tap for 7 p.m.
The Tigers close at 11-6-2 with the loss and will now bid goodbye to a talented senior class including Harrison, Jacie Nier, Amanda West, Daniela Ochoa, Delaney Taylor and Steffensmeier. Steffensmeier set records for most goals scored in a season (28 in 2017), most career goals (84) and most points in a career (199), and Taylor closes her high school career as the program assists leader both in a single season (17 in 2017) and over her career (40).
“We’re thankful to be here. It’s been a long year, a lot of adversity with injuries and things like that. For us to be in this game, it took a lot of depth to get here,” said Hoover. “I’m proud of our girls. I’m proud that they didn’t stop fighting. To be in a game with Homestead after all the adversity and players that have been hurt and so on and so forth, it’s a credit to our girls for pushing through and fighting hard.”