By Mitchell Boatman
PORTAGE – Through the first 56 minutes of their Division 1 regional semifinal game against Forest Hills Central on Tuesday, the Mona Shores Sailors dodged bullets, erased mistakes and rode standout goalkeeper Megan Swanker to a 1-0 lead.
Eight minutes later the Rangers had flipped the game on its side and led 3-1.
In the end, Mona Shores suffered a 4-1 loss at Portage Central High School, its first and last defeat of the season. The Sailors ducked out of the state girls’ soccer tournament with an amazing 21-1 record.
“We held with a good team for about 55 minutes,” said Mona Shores Coach Dylan Darga. “We made some costly errors. The stamina started to wear down a little bit.
“In the end of it, we just ran out of gas. We made those costly errors that cost us the game. It’s just something we learn from.”
Despite the loss, Darga said his team played well against a very tough opponent. Like Mona Shores, Forest Hills Central came into the game undefeated.
“I thought we played some pretty darn good soccer,” he said. “Overall I was very proud of the girls. They have nothing to hold their heads down about.”
The Sailors obviously limited their mistakes throughout the season, which allowed them to win their first 21 games and capture an O-K Black Conference championship and a Division 1 district title along the way.
But the speed and high-tempo attack of Forest Hills Central kept the Sailors on their heels. The Rangers held a 15-2 advantage in shots on goal, leaving Swanker with a heavy workload in goal.
“She kept us in there to make it kind of respectable,” Darga said. “She really fought hard. It’s nice having a great keeper back there, and the girls really appreciate it.”
Mona Shores was able to keep Forest Hills Central scoreless in the first half, thanks to several Swanker saves and a little help from the crossbar.
The Sailors broke through offensively in the 25th minute when Nora Brown delivered an excellent cross to Raegan Cox, who needed just one touch to find the back of the net.
Mona Shores held the lead until the 57th minute, accounting for the longest period Forest Hills Central has trailed this season.
But the Rangers did not stay down for long.
A Ranger shot went off the hands of Swanker, and Madelyn Becker converted the rebound to tie the game 1-1. Just over a minute later the Rangers went up for good on a goal from Bailey Korhorn.
Ashley Ward added the third goal in the 64th minute, and Korhorn struck again with 4:34 to play.
The Sailors won’t need to look hard for reasons to be optimistic after the loss, with the majority of their outstanding team set to return next year.
Mona Shores will lose seniors Isabel Grace, McKenna Matthews and Haley Gartland, but will return a strong core that will include Swanker, Cox and Sarah Mikesell.
Swanker will return looking to tip her own single-season school shutout record of 15. Cox nearly doubled the single-season assists record with 30 this year, and Mikesell already holds the Mona Shores record for career goals.
“I hope that they’re hungry,” said Darga. “I’m sad for the seniors to go, but they were really part of something that’s going to be special, I think, going forward.”