Two freshmen made the biggest plays of the game to lead No. 6 Independence to a 2-1 upset win at No. 2 Grand Valley in a Division III sectional championship game on Thursday.
Makenna McGhee’s second-half goal tied the game and Riccela DiGeronimo drained one in overtime that ended Grand Valley’s undefeated season. The Mustangs, who were ranked No. 10 in the final Division III state coaches’ poll, entered the game 15-0-1 on the year.
“That was a fun one,” said Independence coach Bryan Less. “It was exciting. They were a solid team but I told the girls before the game that either team could win. We played really well, especially in the second half and overtime.”
It didn’t start out well for the Blue Devils, who advanced to the district semifinals where they’ll play at No. 2 Berkshire on Monday. The Badgers defeated Cornerstone Christian, 3-2, to improve to 17-0 on the year.
Grand Valley’s Alyssa Clason scored the 45th goal of her season about a minute into the game.
“It was a defensive lapse,” Less said. “No. 12 is a nice player. We marked her on a throw-in but the girl marking her fell off and she had an open shot and put it in.”
McGhee had several first-half chances to tie the game but it wasn’t until 10 minutes into the second half that she found the back of the net.
“She had four or five really good shots on goal from the outside mid,” Less said. “One went right over the crossbar and she had several good one-touch shots.”
DiGeronimo set up the game-tying goal.
“Riccela had the ball in the 18-yard box then she passed it off to me near the 6-yard box and I made the shot,” McGhee said. “It was so cool to see the team storm the field after the win.”
Grand Valley nearly pulled off the win in regulation.
“There was a phantom foul with about 30 seconds left in the game,” Less said. “They put the ball off the crossbar.”
Prior to the overtime period, Less reminded his team of why they spent the summer and preseason training so hard and why their regular season schedule included so many challenging opponents.
It was for moments like the one they faced at Grand Valley.
“We got beat up a little bit the past couple of years,” Less said. “That’s why we trained all summer and conditioned in June and July. A lot of them worked really hard. We were a little bit of a punching bag but I told them if we won this game we’d be looking good again.”
The Blue Devils dominated possession early in overtime and set up DiGeronimo’s shot the way they were coached.
“The ball went to the right side and got swung into the middle, like I love, outside-in,” Less said. “Molly (Dougherty) came up with the ball and poked it out to Riccela, who as about 16 yards out. The ball actually hit the left post and bounced in.”
DiGeronimo and Dougherty communicated perfectly to set up the game-winner.
“Molly and I both ran to the ball but I called her off,” DiGeronimo said. “She gave it a touch to me and I hit the ball to the back left of the post and it bounced in. When the ball went in the net, my teammates stormed the field, including Coach Less, and we all jumped up and down in excitement knowing that we’re off to the district semifinals.”
Independence improved to 10-6-1 and gets another shot at Berkshire. The Badgers edged the Blue Devils, 1-0, in a regular season contest back on Aug. 31.
“We’re going to approach it just like we have everything else,” Less said. “We’ll work hard in training and if we play well we can win. That’s our plan, just go out and play as well as we can and see what happens.”