Sydney Breyen scored the match-winner midway through the second half after setting up Addy Kelly’s first-half strike as #7 Bemidji claimed a rare victory against Brainerd by stunning the #2 Warriors 2-1 in a Section 8AAA girls soccer quarterfinal Wednesday evening.
The Lumberjacks’ victory came just two and a half weeks after a disheartening 5-1 loss to Brainerd that had marked the 12th defeat to the Warriors in 14 meetings since 2008. But on a windy Wednesday quarterfinal in the new Class AAA’s Section 8–one that featured a 15-minute downpour midway through the first half–Bemidji’s playoff resolve of recent seasons once again was on full display.
Lauren Berg nearly struck for the visitors in the opening three minutes when she broke past the Warriors’ defense before scuffing a shot off target.
Emma Sheflo–Brainerd’s two-goal scorer from the first meeting between the teams–fashioned a chance for herself later in the half after beating a host of defenders, but struck the outside of the net on a tight-angled effort.
Already contending with a gusting breeze, both teams had to navigate an almost 15-minute stretch of pouring rain that lashed down in varying amounts of ferocity before subsiding. It was at the close of the downpour that Bemidji found the breakthrough in the 33rd minute.
Marah Bitter connected with Sydney Breyen on the forward’s driving run down the left flank, setting her up for a cutback pass from the endline. Addy Kelly reached the pass with a trailing run that set up a low finish off the hands of Warrior goalkeeper Peyton LeMieur.
The Warriors had lost just once all regular season entering the night and had an instant reply to going behind. A sweeping corner found the head of Emma Tautges for a bullet header past Bemidji’s Kiera Nelson to level the match only a minute after Kelly’s goal.
Brainerd came close to adding another goal late in the half when Avery LeMieur fired a bouncing ball off the crossbar amidst a crowd inside Bemidji’s penalty area.
Out-chanced in the first half, the Lumberjacks grew into the second with an increasingly strong presence in the midfield to help launch attacks. Those forays also created more free kick opportunities in dangerous positions, which put Marah Bitter in position to test LeMieur with a set piece from distance.
The Brainerd goalkeeper’s save yielded Bemidji’s first corner of the night, which paved the way for the match-winner. Bitter zipped the set piece low on the ground to the near post, slipping it under LeMieur and into the path of a crashing Breyen for a tap-in.
Bemidji threatened on several further occasions to add to the lead with Emma Wright going close twice only to be denied by LeMieur.
At the other end, Brainerd’s attack yielded just two efforts on target in the second half and Nelson’s good handling on the slick surface ensured hopeful passes over the top came to nothing. The junior finished with four saves as Bemidji outshot Brainerd 8-5 in total efforts on target.
The win was just the second in the last 13 years for Bemidji against Brainerd, but also marked the seventh consecutive season that the Lumberjacks have progressed out of the opening round of the section playoffs.
#7 Bemidji (8-6-2) will next visit Section 8AAA’s #3 Elk River–a 2-0 winner over #6 Sartell–on Saturday for a semifinal meeting tentatively slated for 1pm. The match will be aired on the Lumberjack Radio Network on KBUN-FM 104.5 and Lumberjacks1 at kbunsportsradio.com.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Logan Larsen: