FAIRMONT - The Section 2A, No. 11-seeded Mankato Loyola girls soccer team proved the sports adage, "It's difficult to beat a team three times in a row."
Forward Emily Gaspar generated a goal and an assist to help guide the Crusaders to a 4-2 first-round sectional playoff victory over the No. 6-seeded Fairmont Area Cardinals on Tuesday night at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont.
Mankato Loyola (4-10-1) advances to face No. 3-seeded Albert Lea on Saturday at a time to be determined in the Section 2A quarterfinals. The Tigers gained the second round via a 7-0 triumph over No. 14-seeded Glencoe-Silver Lake.
GIVING CHASE — Fairmont Area defender Hailey Wolter (21) tracks down a long kick as Cardinal teammate Mackenzie Betts (5) and Mankato Loyola’s Katerina Vetter (10) give chase during Section 2A first-round soccer playoff action Tuesday at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont. Fairmont Area’s Brooklyn Leichtnam (3) looks on. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Fairmont Area exited the postseason with a 7-7-2 record.
"I really didn't like the idea of drawing them (the Crusaders) for the playoffs since we had already beaten them twice during the regular season," Cardinal head coach Matt Nielsen said in reference to his lineup's 1-0 shutout over Loyola on Sept. 5 and a 2-1 victory on Sept. 24. "Losing the coss-toin also hurt."
Crusader mentor B.J. Peterson capitalized on winning the toss, opting to open the postseason clash with the 25-30 mph wind at his team's collective backs, and the strategy paid instant dividends.
Sophomore defender Megan Knutson worked her way into a eight-player scrum in front of the Fairmont Area net off of a Loyola corner kick. The Cardinals could not clear the ricocheting ball and Knutson quickly knocked it past starting goalkeeper Jess Koskovich for an early 1-0 lead at the 37:11 juncture of the opening half.
Gaspar, who had scored Loyola's only goal during the two South Central Conference teams' previous two meetings this fall, then drilled a crossing shot from the right wing that just missed the left post before teammate Katerina Vetter tapped home the kickback for a 2-0 lead with 32:50 left in the first frame.
"Grabbing a two-goal lead early really helped our confidence, but Aunikah's goal regained the momentum for us after Schultz answered for Fairmont (Area)," said Peterson.
Cardinal striker Sierra Schultz needed only 41 seconds to counter Vetter's goal to trim the home team's deficit to 2-1. The Mercurial Schultz tracked down a long kick in the middle of the field, split a pair of Loyola defenders and drilled a left-footed kick past Crusader goalie Kit Krmpotich and into the right corner of the net.
Aunikah Bastian then restored Loyola's two-goal margin by unleashing a scorched liner from the left point that hit the crossbar and spun backward into the twine for a 3-1 lead with 25:42 remaining in the opening half.
Gaspar then deposited a 25-yard direct kick just over Koskovich's stretched-out fingertips and just under the crossbar to extend the Crusaders' margin to 4-1 with 6:52 showing on the scoreboard.
Despite having the wind at its back in the second half, Fairmont Area converted only one of five shots on goal during the final 40 minutes of regulation.
Striker Lexi Johnson hammered a 25-yarder from the left wing that took a high carom in front of the net before Cardinal teammate Kayley Shoen chipped home the goal at the 35:24 juncture of the second half to slice the gap to 4-2.
Schultz, Sydney Leichtnam, Mackenzie Betts and Brooklyn Leichtnam each generated hard shots on goal down the stretch, but Kit Krmpotich gloved all four Fairmont Area blasts to earn the win.
Krmpotich finished with seven saves for Loyola, while Koskovich and Alex Christianson netted seven and one stop, respectively.
Mankato Loyola 4-0-4
Fairmont Area 1-1-2
ML - Megan Knutson (unassisted), 37:11.
ML - Katerina Vetter (Emily Gaspar), 32:50.
FA - Sierra Schultz (unassisted), 32:09.
ML - Aunikah Bastian (unassisted), 25:42.
ML - Gaspar direct kick, 6:52.
FA - Kayley Shoen (Lexi Johnson), 35:24.
Shots on goal: Mankato Loyola 11-1-12; Fairmont Area 4-5-9.
Saves: Kit Krmpotich (ML) 3-4-7; Jess Koskovich (FA) 7-x-7; Alex Christianson (FA) x-1-1.