Lakeville North junior Lauren Lieser called it the weirdest moment of her life.
Trailing Owatonna by five early in the second half of the section quarterfinals, the Panthers girls’ lacrosse team tied the game at eight, forcing overtime, ultimately giving Lakeville North momentum it hoped would boost it to the next round.
But the Huskies, seeded third in Section 1, dashed those hopes when they scored in overtime. While Panther players fell to their knees as tears began to roll down their faces, Owatonna players and coaches ran on to the field and began to celebrate.
Two words halted the victory parade about five seconds later, however.
“Illegal stick,” the official bellowed to the crowd.
Immediately after what was thought to be the game-winning goal, Lakeville North coach Danica Cutshall asked the officials to complete a stick-check. The officials looked at the stick and quickly determined it was an illegal stick because of how deep of a pocket there was in the girl’s basket.
Tears turned into cheers as Lakeville North’s season was not done just yet.
“I was like a kid on Christmas morning,” defenseman Sophia Kelly said. “We got a second chance.”
Call it a gift, a shot at redemption, or whatever else you want, but Lieser made the most of it. With about nine seconds left in the third overtime, Lieser converted, lifting No. 6-seed Lakeville North to a 9-8 victory over No. 3-seed Owatonna. Lieser’s goal moves the Panthers on to the Section semifinals where they will face No. 2-seed Farmington on Friday at Farmington High School at 7 p.m.
Lakeville North waited to celebrate until the officials checked Lieser’s stick, though. They did not want to experience the same swing of emotions that Owatonna went through in the first overtime. But Lieser’s stick checked out, and the celebration commenced as the Panthers’ season extended to at least one more game.
Lieser struggled at times throughout the game, committing two turnovers in overtime. But she saw her shot at redemption in the third overtime.
“I just went balls to the wall,” she said. “This was our shot (to end the game).”
Lieser’s goal not only signified redemption for her—it signified redemption for the entire team. Lakeville North at one point trailed Owatonna 8-4, which was a deficit they had not shown themselves they could overcome.
“We have always dug ourselves a hole, and we are like, ‘oh crap guys,’ Lieser said. “Now we have to start playing if we want to win.’ That is how it has been all season.”
The difference at that moment: they would not play another game if they didn’t crawl out of that hole.
Senior captain Megan Lebens stressed this to them when she pulled the team aside late in the second half before the Panthers forced overtime. Lebens said to her teammates that, “if you aren’t going to play for yourselves, play for those who this could be the last five minutes of lacrosse that they every play.”
“That is when we started playing for each other,” Lieser said.
This unity will need to continue if Lakeville North wants to defeat Farmington on Friday—a rematch of a game the Tigers won 15-10.
Lieser and Kelly both said the game against Owatonna could be the breakthrough the Panthers needed in order to string together enough wins to make a state tournament trip.
Softball close to elimination
Although the Lakeville North girls’ lacrosse team’s season will last until at least Friday, the Panther softball team may be done for the season by then.
Lakeville North faces Lakeville South in an elimination game tonight in Austin in Section 1 play, and if the Panthers win, they will have to play another game tonight. One more loss for the red and white, and Lakeville North’s season will be over. To make a state tournament trip, the Panthers will have to win four consecutive games, two of which will be played tonight.
Win those two games, and Lakeville North will face the winner of the winner’s bracket. The Panthers will have to defeat this team twice, though, as the section tournament is double-elimination.
The 2016 softball team is not as talented as the 2014 team that fell in the 2014 section finals, but don’t be surprised to see the 2016 Panthers make a trip to state because of the move to the less competitive Section 1 this season.
Lakeville North boys in position to make state return
As close as the Lakeville North girls lacrosse and softball teams have been to elimination, that has not been the case for their male counterparts in each sport.
Both teams won the South Suburban Conference in their respective sports, and both teams are ranked among the top 10 in the state. The Lakeville North boys’ lacrosse team opened sections with a 15-3 rout of Rochester Mayo last night, and the Lakeville North baseball team is two wins away from its fourth consecutive state appearance.
—It was announced today that Lakeville North senior Luke Anderson is a finalist for Mr. Lacrosse. Anderson, a Marquette commit, led Lakeville North with 18 goals in the regular season, helping the Panthers finish 11-2.
—In case you missed this week’s edition of Minnesota’s Real Sports Show on 1500 ESPN radio, Lakeville North boys’ lacrosse coach Jeff Wright joined us to talk about the postseason. Along with Wright, Rickey Foggie joined us to talk his fight for the Eagan football coaching job. Gophers pitcher Tim Shannon also called in to talk about the late Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes who died after a four-year battle with leukemia on Thursday. Listen here: http://www.1500espn.com/shows/minnesotas-real-sports/
Our show is on every Sunday morning on 1500-AM ESPN radio at 7 a.m.