By Keith Knepp
LIGONIER — After playing to a 0-0 draw in the first half, it seemed like whichever team got the first goal in the second half would take home the Girls Sectional 20 hardware. NorthWood and DeKalb have been matched up in the Sectional 20 championship match for the past five years, ever since the IHSAA expanded from two to three classes in 2017. The Panthers won the matchups in 2017, 2018 and 2020, with the Barons taking home the title in 2019.
Unfortunately for NorthWood, 2021 would send the trophy back to Waterloo, as the Barons used a late rally, scoring twice in the last eight minutes, to win 3-2 in a match contested on the pitch at West Noble High School.
Throughout the majority of the second half, it certainly seemed as though NorthWood was in control. The first goal came just two minutes after halftime when Caitlin Knepp found the goal to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Given the way NorthWood’s defense had played all season, it certainly seemed like that might be enough.
It took until the 25:25 mark on the scoreboard for DeKalb to pot the equalizer with a goal by Lilly Budde.
NorthWood retook the lead with 10:23 left in the game when Eva Sloat knocked home a left footer that found the side netting, giving the Panthers a 2-1 advantage. With momentum firmly back on the NorthWood side, it certainly seemed as though the team was well on its way to back-to-back sectional titles.
It wasn’t to be, however, as the Lady Barons would beat the NorthWood defense twice to win the match. The first goal came at the 7:53 mark when Hope Lewis was able to corral a ball that was mishandled by normally sure-handed Panther keeper Carly Mast to give DeKalb its second equalizer of the match.
Even with that goal, the Panther faithful seemed confident that their team would either find a way to push across an answer or, at worst, bleed off the last minutes to take the game to overtime.
However, less than three minutes later, a run up the left sideline by DeKalb would result in a corner kick for the Lady Barons. After the call was made, Panther captains Callie Johnson and Mast attempted to argue that a foul should have been called on the DeKalb player before the ball crossed the end line.
Their protestations, however, left them both out of position while the Barons set their play for the corner kick. When the ball was launched, the Panther defense as a whole was in in disarray, allowing DeKalb’s Riley Exford to go unmarked and head the cross into the net for game winner.
NorthWood’s season ended with a sparkling 11-4-1 record, although h the disappointment of this match will certainly stick with them throughout the offseason.
The Panthers will graduate five of their players in the spring, including Lizzie Hilderbrant, Fatima Ghaffar, Abigail Thornton, Morgan Jenkins and Dao Xayyavongsa.
DeKalb will play at either Mishawaka Marian or Plymouth on Wednesday evening in the regional semifinal. The Marian-Plymouth match was postponed until Monday evening because of poor playing field conditions at Plymouth on Saturday.