A dramatic draw for next-door foes

Esko scores in waning seconds to tie Lumberjacks


September 1, 2023

Dave Harwig

Esko soccer players celebrate with Kaitlyn McConnell after her game-tying goal with 53 seconds left against Cloquet/Carlton on Tuesday.

When the Cloquet/Carlton and Esko girls soccer teams met Tuesday night, the game featured the Class AA and Class A Section 7 champions from last year. It also featured quality defensive efforts by both teams, ending in a 1-1 tie. Esko evened up the score in the last 53 seconds on a goal by Kaitlyn McConnell.

"We haven't had a lot of time to practice set pieces," said Esko coach Sharon Lahti, referring to things like free kicks and corner kicks. "What we tell the girls is just get a body part on the ball and Kaitlyn was able to do that at a crucial time for us."

Cloquet/Carlton scored the first goal of the game when Lauren Hughes knocked home a free kick that got past Esko goaltender Hannah Roemer with a little over 22 minutes left.

"The big play for us in that sequence was the fact that a freshman, Makenzie Lynch, made a good run and was fouled on the play which allowed us to get the kick," said longtime Cloquet coach Dustin Randall. "Lauren has the ability to make some big plays and shots for us. I don't know if she was aiming for the spot she hit, but we'll take the result of the play."

Following Hughes' goal, Esko attacked and kept the pressure on the Lumberjacks' net. With less than a minute left in regulation, Esko's Gwen Lilly served a corner kick which McConnell pounced on. She got it past CC goalie Rylee Senich to tie the game.

"It was a little frustrating up until we tied the game," Lahti said. "We had missed so many shots over the top of the net and that is something we can't do. I don't mind missing wide, but missing that many shots over the net is something we need to get better at."

At halftime the game was still scoreless, but the start of the game saw Esko carry the bulk of the play while gaining three corner kicks in the first eight minutes.

"We are dealing with some injuries. That changed what we were doing with our lineup so it took a while for us to get things figured out," Randall said. "I feel good about our younger players who had to step up into roles they didn't expect to play and they did a nice job."

The Lumberjacks weathered the storm in the first half and the field tilt, which had been in Esko's favor early, started to level itself out. Both teams clogged up chances and eliminated good scoring opportunities through much of the half.

Esko had a golden scoring chance near the end of the first half, when CC goalie Rylee Senich mishandled a ball that popped free to Esko's Kaitlyn McConnell, who found herself wide open in front of the cage only to boot the ball over the crossbar, keeping the game even.

"I give them credit, they made a play at the end," Randall said. "We can identify some mistakes we made as a team and learn from those mistakes and hopefully get better."

The Lumberjacks had one last chance with 5 seconds remaining in the game, as Hughes took a free kick, but her shot sailed over the goal and the game ended in a 1-1 tie.

Dave Harwig

The Lumberjacks celebrated a goal Tuesday, putting them up 1-0 in the second half against Esko.

"It is always a lot of fun when we play each other," said coach Lahti. "Many of our girls play together on the CEC hockey team, so they know each other well, and they play each other growing up in soccer. It is a fun rivalry. The coaches know each other as well, so the game has a lot of chess-type moves going on that most people don't notice or see."

Esko entered the game with a 2-0 record by virtue of wins over Cambridge-Isanti and Proctor. Cloquet/Carlton was 1-0-1 with a win over Two Rivers and a tie with St. Francis. The Lumberjacks graduated five players off last year's team and Esko graduated three, so the game had all the nuances of a big game early in the season.

Both teams will jump right back into action later this week as Esko was set to face Princeton at home Thursday and Cloquet/Carlton was set to travel to Alexandria Thursday as well.


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