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Girls Hockey: Lakeville South starts fast, eliminates Tigers

Several mistakes in the defensive zone allowed Lakeville South to avenge a regular season loss and end Farmington's hopes of a return to the state tournament with a 4-3 victory over the Tigers in the Section 1AA semifinals last Tuesday night in Owatonna.

The top-seeded Cougars, who went on to earn a spot in the eight-team state field with a win over Rochester Mayo in the section finals, got on the board first at the 6:28 mark and never trailed. Their second goal came three minutes later on a tip-in from the point and goal No. 3 came when Mara Post intercepted a pass by a Farmington defender and redirected the puck past goaltender Jessica Erchul.

The young Tigers (16-9-2) closed the deficit to one goal on three occasions -- and held a 36-24 advantage in shots on goal -- but could never come up with the equalizer.

"The falling behind was more detrimental to our younger players' psyche since they kept looking up at the shots and seeing us outshooting them over 2-1 and still being behind," Farmington coach Jon Holmes said. "The girls still played tough throughout the game and there was a lot of talk and positive comments amongst them to buckle down and get back the lead, but it was like our bodies just couldn't quite do what the minds were willing it to."

Hannah Alexander's 25th goal of the season made it 2-1 late in the first period, a power-play goal on a pass from Alexander to senior Laura Dahl made it 3-2 at the 4:49 mark of the third period and Krystal Baumann's 25th goal of the campaign got the score back to 4-3 with six seconds remaining. Holmes elected to pull Erchul from the goal less than a minute earlier and Lakeville South took advantage with an empty-netter by Jessica Larkin.

"We made mistakes in our defensive zone that were too big to recover from. We were not getting sticks up and moving bodies out of the way when shots were taken from outside," Holmes said. "It just looked like we were tired. I am not sure if it was the nerves or some other out of hockey activity that lead to our tiredness, but we just didn't have the same zip that we had against Owatonna."

The Tigers graduate two seniors from this year's squad: Dahl and goaltender Brittany Braatz. Holmes said the leadership provided by the pair was crucial to the success of his young team.

"As a defensemen and a goaltender it is not an easy task to rely on seventh and eighth graders to get you through a postseason, but they willingly embraced the challenge and gave our youngsters a positive and energetic role model to look up to," he said. "We would not have had the amount of success we did without the leadership and efforts of our seniors. I will miss both of them dearly next year."

Still, Holmes expects the Tigers to reload rather than rebuild in the coming years with the multitude of varsity-level players that will be back on the ice.

"Our team has a lot to look forward too. We are young and will be young for a couple more years. We graduate two this year, one next year and only three the following year," he said. "Hopefully we can take this experience and use it to our advantage coming into next season. Not many AA high school hockey coaches have the symbiotic relationship of pain and comfort of only graduating six girls in three years."