The Pioneers knocked off the defending state champion Eagles 2-1
Story and photos by Terry Jacoby/weloveannarbor.com
When the fog finally cleared on Saturday morning at Saline High School, one team celebrated while the other team reflected following a game where both teams not only played their hearts out but played at the highest level.
Pioneer scored first and last and goalie Maddie Grand along with a strong defense somehow kept Skyline’s powerful offense to just one goal as the Pioneers knocked off the defending state champion Eagles 2-1.
The game was delayed 10 minutes to allow for a heavy fog to clear but it certainly took its time. Most of the first half featured foggy conditions. The game also was played before a huge crowd including large and vocal student sections from both schools.
Grand played an unbelievable “grand” game in goal for the Pioneers. The junior goalie wasn’t afraid to come out of the net to knock away shots and disrupt Skyline’s front line. She made some big saves late while the Eagles scrambled to get the equalizer. When her name was announced to receive her medal after the game, the Pioneer students chanted, “MVP.”
The Pioneers played the championship game without one of their captains, Kate Soldan, who tore her ACL in the second round of the playoffs and had to watch from the sidelines on crutches.
Natalie Millman, one of Pioneer’s standout players who is heading to Michigan to play next year, couldn’t stop smiling and celebrating after her team’s “amazing” win over their talented rivals.
“I recognized that this was my last game of high school field hockey and that I wanted this win not for myself but for the whole team especially Kate,” she said. “I came in with the mindset that losing was not an option and I think that everyone else felt the same way. (Saturday) was a real team effort and I’m super proud of how we all responded even in the face of adversity.”
Millman said the team played its best game at the right time.
“After we played them the first two times I think that we really took that to heart and worked even harder every practice for this moment,” she said. “I think the key to our success today was that we played as a team and every single player gave their all and played their role.”
Skyline defeated Pioneer 4-3 in overtime last year to win the school’s first Division 1 State Title. Skyline defeated Pioneer 4-2 in the season opener and the two teams played to a 4-4 draw at Skyline in the second regular-season contest.
With 8:51 left in the second quarter, Millman scored to give Pioneer a 1-0 lead. Sadie Schultz scored with 2:21 left in the third quarter to tie the game. After a scramble in front of the Skyline goal, the Pioneers were awarded a penalty shot and Millman delivered what turned out to be the game-winner with 10:55 left to play in the game.
The final 10 minutes were a frenzy as Skyline tried to equalize. Pioneer had several excellent chances to push the game to a two-goal lead but in the end neither team could score. And in the end, Pioneer celebrated and Skyline reflected.