DENVER — Palmer Ridge knocked a five-year monkey off its back on Tuesday.
The Bears, seeded second in the state field hockey tournament, beat No. 3 Colorado Academy 1-0 in the semifinals. It ended a string of five straight postseasons in which Colorado Academy had ended Palmer Ridge’s season.
“It’s huge,” said Palmer Ridge coach Paul Lewis. “Anybody wants to beat CA. That’s just a tough thing to do.”
The Mustangs had reached the past five state championship games, winning each of the last four.
“It is an end of a dynasty. They’ve been really dominant,” Lewis said. “They’ve got a great program. They always seem to have a tough team.”
Palmer Ridge sophomore Jordyn Ray-Isner broke a scoreless stalemate with her goal with 10:56 remaining in the game.
She had positioned herself next to the far post and was there with a waiting stick as a ball from junior Kyra Rothwell made its way through teammates and defenders in front of the net. Once it got to Ray-Isner, she tapped it in for a lead.
“I just knew I had to get a stick on it so we could get ahead in the game,” Ray-Isner said. “We really needed a goal to push us through. I just thought if I stuck my stick in there, I’d get a tap on the ball and I did.
“I didn’t even know if it went in or not because I couldn’t see. I was just hoping,” she added. “And then everyone started cheering, so I knew that it happened.”
It was the fourth time the two teams had faced one another in 2016. Palmer Ridge won a scrimmage before the season, then the Bears ended Colorado’s 78-game unbeaten streak in September. They also tied in October.
“CA has always had the mental game over everybody, and I think us having that few extra games on them put a little mental on them,” Lewis said.
Palmer Ridge came out firing with multiple chances in the first half, but Colorado Academy keeper Bridget Sutter, a senior, was equal to the task. She also had a number of big saves in the second half.
“Their keeper is a pretty solid keeper and she’s kept them in all four years,” Lewis said. “She’s really kept them alive. She’s very good.”
The Bears’ Keelin Broeker also had a big game in net, including a sprawling save on the turf with a minute remaining in the first half.
“Keelin is an absolute beast in front of the goal,” Lewis said. “She’s just got all the talent, she’s strong as heck and she loves the game. She’s a big part of our defense back there, and she’s doing amazing.”
Now, Palmer Ridge advances to the third championship game in program history, and the first since 2014. The Bears will face Kent Denver, which beat Palmer Ridge 2-0 a week ago.
“That’s another really tough one we haven’t been able to beat this year,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be a fight.”
Palmer Ridge has never won a state field hockey championship.
(1) Kent Denver 2, (4) Denver East 0
Kent Denver’s unbeaten run will continue into the field hockey finals.
“It’s just exciting,” Kent Denver coach Kathy James said afterward. “This group has come together really well as a team. We’ve got great senior leadership.”
One of those seniors, forward Shelby Schumacher, scored a key goal early in the second half on a rocket from just inside the circle.
“I saw it coming across, and I was like, ‘I’ve got this, I’ve got this,'” Schumacher said of receiving a pass that led to the opportunity. “In my head, I was thinking, ‘Touch in the circle, and keep your head down.'”
Her shot found the far corner for a 1-0 lead with 20:36 remaining.
“Field hockey season is so fun for me, because I don’t play year-round like some of the other girls,” said Schumacher, who also plays soccer for Kent Denver. “So for me, I watch my teammates, and it’s like, ‘Wow, she hits the ball so well. I want to do that.’
“I just think about my teammates in those moments: ‘If she can do it, I can do this.'”
Denver East had an opportunity to tie the game four minutes after Schumacher’s goal, but Kent’s senior goalie Emilie-Ann Choi charged the ball on a breakaway to turn the chance away. She followed that with an immediate save off a penalty corner.
The Angels did appear to tie the game a few minutes after that, but the goal was disallowed because the ball never came outside the circle off a penalty corner.
Kent Denver sealed the game when sophomore Madeleine Hunt, the team’s leading scorer, poked a loose ball home in front of the net. It was her tenth goal this season.
This is the 13th time that Kent Denver will play in a championship game, which the most of any program in the sanctioned history of the sport, but it is the first appearance since 2011. The Sun Devils have won nine titles.
“We were really focused on today, and we knew this was going to be so far the hardest game of our run here in the state tournament,” Schumacher said after Kent’s game, which was the first semifinal of the night. “Whoever it is (in the final), it’s going to be an amazing game, and it’ll be fun to play.”