MILWAUKEE — Soccer can be a cruel sport at times.
The Green Bay Notre Dame girls team learned that during its 2-0 loss to Mount Horeb in a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal at Uihlein Soccer Park on Friday afternoon.
The Tritons (14-11-2) dominated the possessions and chances over the final 40 minutes after a scoreless first half, only to be eliminated after the Vikings cashed in on a penalty kick with more than 20 minutes remaining.
“It’s the way the ball bounces sometimes,” Notre Dame coach Bob Rickards said. “It’s a cliché thing to say, but it is. We did control the play. I thought we had some good opportunities.
“I thought we outplayed them and moved the ball better, but that’s just the way it is sometimes.”
The decisive play came on what Rickards said was a good call, when a Notre Dame defender rode up the back of Mount Horeb forward Claire Miller.
The Vikings (20-3) opted to have freshman Cassie Handrick take the penalty kick. She is one of the better options for Mount Horeb, although in most situations coach Mark Newman would have gone with standout Kelly Sullivan. But she was off the field at the time of the penalty.
No big deal.
Handrick booted the penalty kick to the left corner and past a diving Gabrielle Woleske.
“She did a great job,” said Newman of Handrick, who scored 26 goals during the regular season.
Notre Dame had a few more chances after the goal — it outshot Mount Horeb 5-2 in the second half, and it already had proved recently that it could come back from a second-half deficit against Ashland in a sectional championship.
But it didn’t happen this time.
The Vikings scored an insurance goal in the 74th minute after Sullivan blew by the Notre Dame defense and scored her team-leading 38th goal.
This is Mount Horeb’s first appearance in the state tournament. And although the Vikings entered as the second-ranked team in the state, they played like an underdog against a Notre Dame program that has been to state eight times since 2001.
“We needed to make sure we got over that first hurdle,” said Newman, who led the Mount Horeb boys to a state championship in the fall. “We knew if we got here, we were probably going to play somebody who has been here five, six years in a row. If we come in uncomfortable and take the first 10 or 15 minutes just getting our feet, the game is probably over at that point.
“We talked about (Notre Dame). It’s a real thing. That experience at state matters.”
The Tritons bowed out seeking their first state championship. They advanced to the championship game last year and have been runner-up three times, but getting to this point was an accomplishment after a 1-6-2 start.
They will have plenty of talent coming back next season to make another run, including two of their three team captains in junior midfielder Katie Fife and junior defender Alyssa Florack. Fife was the team’s leading scorer.
“I think it’s a great year,” Rickards said. “We started 1-6-2, and a lot of people wrote us off. But you know what? These girls battled back. They beat a No. 1 seed Seymour who had 20 wins, and Ashland with 23 wins and undefeated.
“They came together at the end. It was just tough luck at the end.”