The Saline Hornets entered the MWPA East Region Championship game with a 24-3 record, ranked 2nd in the State. The Okemos Chiefs entered the game with a 21-10 record, ranked 4th in the State. On Saturday afternoon though, records meant nothing as the Hornets and Chiefs battled through four quarters and two overtimes and then went to sudden death OT before Cassie Anderson ended the Hornets’ most exciting game of the season with her most exciting goal of the year.. Anderson’s goal, 17 seconds into sudden death OT, gave the Hornet’s their one and only lead of the game and the East Region Championship.
Okemos’ senior captains, Sydney Fountain and Sarah Williams scored early to put the Chiefs up 2-0 before Saline’s Jen Green scored on a 6 on 5 to narrow the margin. Okemos scored 50 seconds later and the Hornets were down 3-1. Saline’s captains answered immediately as Anderson found Sam Fitch with a nice pass and Fitch buried it to cut the Okemos lead to 3-2 but each team would score one more time in the first quarter with Anderson scoring on a strong skip shot. Okemos led 4-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Anderson found the back of the cage 28 seconds into the second quarter on another nifty skip shot and the score was tied at four apiece. Okemos’s Fountain and Williams came right back with goals for the Chiefs and the Hornets were again trailing by two. At the 3:15 mark, Anderson scored her third goal of the game from outside five meters and a minute later fired another from 10 meters that went “bar in” and the Hornets had tied the score again. Okemos’ Williams scored her third of the game to stake the Chiefs to a 7-6 lead at halftime.
The teams battled back and forth in the third quarter. Both teams played tight defensive and Saline’s goalkeeper, Katie Wagner, made key saves to keep Saline within one goal, still trailing the Chiefs 7-6 at the end of the third quarter.
Okemos’ Sydney Fountain scored her third goal of the game at 4:52 of the 4th quarter giving the Chiefs a two goal lead for the fourth time in the game. At 3:08, Anderson narrowed the gap again with her fifth goal of the game and Saline trailed 8-7 but on the Chiefs’ next possession, Isabella Morris of Okemos scored her second goal of the game to give the Chiefs their fifth two-goal lead of the game. Morris committed a foul as the Hornets put the ball in play after the Chiefs goal; in the ensuing 6 on 5, Lisa Gross found Maddy Murphy with a pass and Murphy scored her first goal of the game to cut the Chiefs lead to 9-8 with 2:19 remaining in the game. One minute later, it looked like the Chiefs had sealed the game when Okemos’ Anna Alegi scored from the wing and gave the Chiefs their sixth two-goal advantage of the game with only 1:07 remaining. Undaunted, the Hornets swarmed back, Cassie Anderson hit Maddy Murphy with a pass and Murphy converted and the Hornets trailed 10-9 with 56 seconds left. The Hornets’ defense, a key to their success all year, shut the Chiefs down on the Chief’s next possession and then Cassie Anderson scored with 18 seconds left to even the score at 10-10 and send the game into overtime.
In high school water polo, the teams play two full 3 minute overtime periods. If the score is still tied after the two full OT periods, then the next OT period(s) are sudden death.
In the first OT, Okemos’ Sarah Williams scored to give the Chiefs the lead 11-10. Trailing by one goal with time running out in the second OT, Cassie Anderson fired a long shot that went bar down and laid on the goal line; before the Chiefs goalkeeper could pounce on the rebound, Maddy Murphy forced the ball over the line as time expired on the clock. The Hornets had come from behind to tie the game for the fourth time.
Possession may be 9/10ths of the law but in sudden death overtime, possession is 100% mission critical. Lisa Gross, Saline’s best sprinter, had won all four sprints in regulation and won both of the OT sprints. With the game on the line, Gross won her 7th sprint of the game. The Chiefs pressed. Anderson, under heavy pressure, cleared room for her best shot of the season, firing a shot that beat the Chiefs goaltender clean 17 seconds into sudden death OT and gave the Hornets the MWPA East Region Championship.
Anderson led all scorers with eight goals, also adding one assist and three steals. Maddy Murphy had two goals. Sam Fitch had one, two assists and three steals. Jen Green had one goal and one steal. In addition to winning a season high seven sprints, Lisa Gross had one assist and three steals. Annika Olsen led team with five steals. Katie Wagner got the win in goal.
After the game, the Michigan Water Polo Association announced the East Region All Tournament and All Season Teams. Maddy Murphy and Cassie Anderson were named First Team All Tournament and First Team All Season. Sam Fitch was Second Team All Tournament and Second Team All Season. Senior captain Maddy Murphy was also recognized by the MWPA as the East Region All Season Most Valuable Player..
The win in the East Region Championship game results in Saline being seeded #1 in the State Tournament Saline will play West Ottawa (the #4 seed out of the West Region) on Friday, June 2nd in Hudsonville, host site for the 2017 MWPA Girls State Championship. Other quarter final matchups will feature Okemos v East Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor Huron v Hudsonville, and Ann Arbor Skyline v. Rockford. Game times TBD. Winners of the Friday night quarter-final games will advance to the semi-finals on Saturday morning.
Follow all of the action with the Saline Girls Water Polo team on Twitter @SalineWaterPolo and on Facebook @SalineHighSchoolGirlsWaterPolo