BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
ROCHESTER HILLS – Please excuse Micayla McGee for her late reaction Tuesday. She was lost in the moment and almost in shock.
The New Baltimore Anchor Bay senior converted the final penalty kick during a shootout in leading the formerly-state-ranked Tars to a thrilling 4-3 victory over sixth-ranked Tory Athens in a regional semifinal at Rochester High School.
McGee and Anchor Bay edged the Red Hawks 4-2 on penalties to gain the tie-breaker and advance to Thursday’s 7 p.m. regional finals at Rochester. The Tars will battle No. 3 Rochester Stoney Creek, 1-0 winners over unranked and defending D-1 state champion Bloomfield Hill in the first regional semifinals, for the right to advance to the Final Four.
But about the game-clinching penalty kick.
“It was almost a little bit of a shock,” offered McGee, smiling ear-to-ear. “I don’t think I realized it until (the head official) blew the whistle and I had everybody run after me. It was pretty incredible.”
Incredible considering Athens (17-3-2) was ranked in the top 10 in the state all season and held a 2-0 lead at one point of the game. The Red Hawks, whose only previous losses came against No. 1 Rochester and No. 3 Stoney Creek, did indeed hold a two-goal advantage in the first half, but in uncharacteristic fashion allowed Anchor Bay to tie it at 2-2 early in the second half and eventually allow the Tars to take a 3-2 lead.
“I was proud of our kids to come back and tie it shortly after they took the lead and to kind of get the momentum back,” said Troy Athens coach Todd Heugh, who was also recently named the new athletics director at Athens. “In the overtime they were organized and tough but I thought we had the better chances — a lot of corner kicks and a lot of long throws. The (goal) that got called back (in the second overtime) looked like it went out of bounds and came back in. At this stage of the tournament, you’ve got to have a little luck, too.”
The Red Hawks tied it at 3-3 with junior Hannah Dombrowski scored on a 25-yard laser with 24:01 remaining in the second half. Athens controlled much of the play down the stretch but couldn’t net a go-ahead goal.
During the two full 10-minute overtime periods, Athens held a 2-1 shots edge and 5-0 differential on cornerkicks but again could not put another tally on the board. That set the stage for the shootout.
Anchor Bay (12-2-7) took advantage in the shootout, as Athens misfired on its first two attempts while Anchor Bay converted all four penalties with the aforementioned McGee netting the dagger into the Red Hawks’ heart to seal the win.
Being resilient in the face of adversity has helped Anchor Bay only lose two games itself this season and post seven draws. It also helped the Tars overcome its two-goal deficit after the 35th minute in this regional semifinals tilt with state powerhouse Athens.
“Since March we’ve devoted 20 minutes of training to the mental side,” noted Anchor Bay coach Kevin Grammens. “You could see the resiliency when we were down (2-0). We didn’t waver. If the mental component isn’t there those two goals turn into three (goals by Athens).”
Athens took a 1-0 lead with 11:47 left in the first half when sophomore Lauren DeJonckheere left high to head the ball away from Anchor Bay keeper sophomore Stella Messina and knock it over the line following a high cross from sophomore Emily Mendrick.
The Red Hawks pushed the advantage to 2-0 with 5:59 to play when senior Alaina Sharp volleyed home a cornerkick from Mendrick.
Anchor Bay was able to cut into the lead before halftime, as freshman Gabrielle Thiede headed home a corner kick from junior Kyra Wolf with 4:29 remaining in the half.
The Tars scored twice in a matter of a 2:03 stretch to grab their 3-2 advantage. Junior Makenna Kennedy scored on a high 25-yard shot following a touch from junior Kayla Lange with 26:35 left in the second half, and then junior Gabrielle Anulare scored on a similar shot high from 24 yards out with 24:32 remaining in regulation.
In the shootout, Kennedy, senior Victoria Kebbe, Wolf and McGee scored in succession, while Athens converted on its third and fourth shot but could never recover.
“We’re excited. We get to play another game,” added McGee.
For the game, Athens outshot Anchor Bay 11-9, including 7-6 with shots on frame, and also had a 9-2 total edge on cornerkicks.