Saline defeated Okemos 12-11 in sudden death overtime to win the regional championship trophy and advance to the state finals tournament, June 2-3 at Hudsonville High School, with a high seed.
The Hornets scored two goals in the final minute of the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. In the second overtime, Cassie Anderson scored an improbable “Hail Mary” goal as time expired, to send the game to the sudden death overtime where Anderson scored her eighth goal of the game to give Saline the win.
“I got the pass and I was in the middle. I knew that a lot of girls on both teams didn’t have the gas to keep going. So I was like, ‘I’m going to shoot and see what happens.’ I saw the opening and I was like, ‘this is going to go in,’” said Anderson, who splashed the water in celebration before her teammates joined her. “I was really happy. I almost got drowned by everyone else because they came over and hugged me. It was a great feeling.”
It was the second straight trophy game that Anderson led her team in scoring.
“What can you say about Cassie? She put the team on her shoulders today. She’s always had a great shot and she came through for us,” Saline coach Katie Neidermire said.
Throughout the season, Saline has had to hold off charges from team’s trying to come from behind. But in Saturday’s regional championship game at Saline High School, the Hornets were never ahead until they won.
“We never give up. We stay hungry. We keep playing. We hit post after post after post, but we didn’t get discouraged. We knew that eventually, if we stayed with, luck would have to turn our way,” Neidermire said.
It looked like the Hornets were done. Michigan High School Water Polo regular season MVP Maddy Murphy watched her shot veer wide with 39 seconds left in the second overtime period. Saline was down by 11-10 to Okemos in the regional championship game.
After an Okemos timeout took nine seconds off the clock the Chieftains still had 21 seconds left on the shot clock. A goal would seal the championship. A miss would give Saline precious little time to get the equalizer. Under pressure from Saline’s unrelenting defense, the Chieftains fired a little early and Katie Wagner made the save, giving Saline about 14 seconds to tie the game. She passed to Cassie Anderson who fired from her end of the pool.
The ball deflected off an Okemos player who tried to block the shot. Maddy Murphy had a great
“Cassie was winding up to shoot. I could feel the girl behind me getting ready to get her arm up. I did everything I could to keep her low. The shot got nicked by her but still went in. It was a miracle,” Murphy said.
The ball deflected past the goalie and just barely floated over the goal line as time expired.
“It was meant to be, I guess,” Murphy said.
In the sudden death overtime, Lisa Gross won the sprint to the ball and passed to Sam Fitch, who found Anderson in the middle for the winner. Gross won all seven sprints during the game.
Gross said she just put her head down and refused to let her opponent get there first.
“Our coach has a way of motivating us. We all have this saying of ‘staying hungry.’ And we were all pretty hungry today,” Gross said. “I just went at it as hard as I could. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from getting that ball.”
Saline very nearly didn’t make it to overtime.
The Hornets spent most of the game playing catch-up and found themselves down 10-8 with under a minute to play in the fourth quarter. Murphy’s second goal of the game, which came with 56 seconds to play, was her best. With one Chief in front of her and another closing, Murphy faked one way and then reversed, sending a no-look backhander into the top corner with 56 seconds left.
Okemos got the ball back and tried to beat Wagner with a lob shot they’d had success with, but Wagner caught it. The Hornets moved up the pool for the attack. With 18 seconds left, Anderson scored with a hard skip shot that bounced into the top corner.
Saline stopped Okemos in the final seconds of regulation.
The game began with the Hornets having very little luck. Murphy, Annika Olsen and Anderson hit goalposts or crossbars before either team scored. While the Hornets were generating the better chances, it was Okemos that scored the game’s first two goals.
Jennifer Green put Saline on the board with 2:45 to play in the quarter. She scored with a shot from a tough angle on the right wing. 36 seconds later, Okemos scored again.
Sam Fitch made it 3-2 with shot that beat the goalie high from the left wing. Okemos responded with a goal. Anderson scored from the middle with 24 seconds later to get Saline with one.
18 seconds into the second quarter, Anderson tied the game with a hard skip shot. Moments later, Okemos went ahead with a lob shot. At 4:08 they used another lob shot to go up 6-4.
Anderson got the Hornets back in the game with a skip shot. Then she tied it with a bar-down rocket.
With 1:43 to play in the half, Okemos scored to take a 7-6 lead.
By halftime, Saline’s best defender, Sam Fitch, had already been penalized with two exclusions. A third would have ejected her from the game.
“You don’t want to get a third exclusion, because if you’re out, you’re out. But you have to play tough defense because you don’t want them to score. So it’s a tough balance,” Fitch said. “You have to rely on your teammates to help you out.”
After seven goals in the first quarter and six goals in the second quarter, the teams were scoreless in the third quarter. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Gross hit a crossbar and Green hit a goalpost.
In the fourth quarter, Okemos struck first, taking an 8-6 lead with 4:48 to play. Anderson hit another goalpost on Saline’s next possession. With 3:08 to play, Anderson made it a one-goal game with a skip shot from the right side. But Okemos scored with another lob shot with 2:42 to play. With 2:17 to play and Okemos with a girl out, Murphy finally found some space and made Okemos pay with a laser to the top corner. But with 1:07 left in the fourth, Okemos scored again, setting the stage for Saline’s late comeback.