by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER
The Rams saw lots of OK Red action last week with games against Muskegon and West Ottawa. The results were different, but the Rams’ strengths showed through in both.
Against the visiting Big Reds of Muskegon Monday night, May 4, the Rams shot the ball nearly 35 times in the first half, but only one of those balls went in-on a penalty kick. All of the rest were wide, high or caught or deflected by Muskegon goalkeeper Chantel McBride. In the second half, the floodgates opened, however, and Rockford finished with a season-high six goals in the shutout against the shorthanded visitors, who were missing seven players because of their Honor Society induction back home.
The Rams’ lone goal in the opening half came with 29.2 seconds remaining. Senior captain Rachel Doud was driving to the net and launched the ball. But instead of going in, her kick made contact with the hand of one of the Big Reds, setting up a penalty kick right in front of the goal. Doud shot right on the penalty kick; McBride stayed put. The scoreboard lit up.
In the second half, the scoring onslaught began when Sydney Benda sent a shot high into the net over the goalkeeper’s head one minute into the half. Senior Matti Graves made the score 3-0 eight minutes later when she finished what Kate Huyser had started. Graves was in the right place at the right time when Huyser’s shot was deflected by McBride out to Graves, who shot it in from close proximity. Lindsey Hutchings scored next when her shot hit the bottom left of the net with 26:10 remaining.
By then, the Big Reds were looking mighty tired, but they kept up the fight. Although their scoring opportunities were almost nil, their junior varsity squad cheered on every good move their upperclassmen counterparts made. The younger Big Reds proved to be great fans.
Jordan Diffenderfer lit up the scoreboard next for the Rams, sneaking past the Big Red defense to score with 8:14 left to play. She scored again two minutes later off a cross right in front of the net from Sondra Weaver.
On Wednesday, May 6, Rockford traveled to West Ottawa’s (WO) home turf, where a more dramatic contest unfolded, ending in a 2-2 tie in double overtime. The Rams dominated the first half, working the ball through the midfield without much distraction or opposition. Senior Bekah Hazel and Benda set up some early scoring opportunities for Huyser and Graves, but the WO defense hustled back, making it hard for the Rams to score. Finally, with 27:04 left in the half, seniors Graves, Carlyn Young and Huyser threw the Panthers’ goalkeeper off her game, making it hard for her to know who to watch outside of her net. Their teamwork and passing in front of the net allowed Young to finish it strongly.
“Our girls did a good job of getting the through balls, passing, and making connections,” said co-captain/goalie Kristin Darby.
Benda scored for the Rams three minutes into the second half when she shot it in from 30 yards out off a tip from Doud. The ball flew over the unsuspecting head of keeper Katie Overway. The Rams had several other scoring opportunities after that, but either Overway was a quick reactor-as in the shot where Doud placed a nice cross to Huyser right in front of the net, and Huyser’s header was deflected by a high reaching Overway-or the Rams ran out of gas.
The Panthers picked up the pace in the last half of the game, scoring once at 23:22 when Mackenzie Doda’s pass to a waiting Taylor VanderPloeg 30 yards out sailed past Rockford goalkeeper Kristin Darby, and again at 56:40 when Kellie Brown’s shot hit the crossbar, but teammate Erin Jipping got the rebound and sent it into the net.
Both teams had opportunities in both overtimes, but could not take advantage of them.