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Girls hockey: One game from state

For the first time since 2011, the Tigers are headed to the Section 1AA championship game with a state tournament bid on the line. Farmington last made the state field in 2008 where it brought home a fourth-place plaque.

Four different players scored goals, and the defense and goaltending continued to be outstanding in a 4-1 win over Lakeville North in Saturday’s semifinals played at Ames Arena in Lakeville.

The win a was a testament to the faith and patience of coach Jon Holmes who maintained all year that his team would progress with the season and hit its stride in the playoffs.

“This particular group was faced with some early adversities as far as getting on the scoreboard,” Holmes said, “but they never once faltered in believing the process and journey would get us to a section championship.

“I read a quote the other day that said if coaches are going to preach to their players that they need to trust the process, the process better be worth trusting and this group of players proved that they had the ability to not only trust in their process and preparation, but that they could prove its worth the closer we got to the postseason.”

Carly Lancaster, assisted by Marissa Agerter and Emily Rubins, continued her postseason scoring surge to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period in Saturday’s semifinals. Lancaster’s goal was her third in two playoffs games.

“Lanny has been playing very well of late,” Holmes said. “Her confidence level has grown every game throughout the year. Offensively, she has been getting herself into prime scoring positions and has really been capitalizing. Her linemates Agerter and Rubins have been a major part of this as they are both skilled veterans…”

The score stayed 1-0 until under four minutes remained in the second period when the winners struck again when Jenna Gerold found the net on assists from Bailey Kelley and Megan Bernu.

Two-and-a-half minutes later lightning struck again when Savanna Tucker scored on the power play on an assist from Kenna Cavanaugh.

Farmington held a 25-14 advantage in shots on goal through two periods, but the Panthers roared out of the break as Erin Olson, assists from Kate Winiecki and Maggie Flaherty, cut the North deficit to two, just 25 seconds into the final frame.

“That could have been a major momentum shifter,” Holmes said, “but for us it was more of a reality check, and we came back out and really limited any further chances to keep the game out of reach.

The third period featured a lot of back and forth with both teams having their chances, but the scoring light didn’t go on again until Rubins banged home an empty-netter in the game’s final second to punctuate Farmington’s win.

The win gave the Tigers the edge in the three-game season series 2-1. North won 3-1 in December with Farmington scoring a 2-1 victory in the regular season rematch.

Goaltender Abby Bollig notched her 11th win of the 2016-17 season, stopping 22-of-23 shots. Farmington won the shots on goal battle 33-23.

“The defense definitely limited the chances of North’s forwards,” Holmes said. “Most of the big shots they had came from the point and we cleared them effectively. Megan Bernu and Brenna Fuhrman again played extremely solid and really controlled the pace of play. All six of our defenders stepped up to stifle North’s offense throughout the game.”

The offense continued to gel, too. The four goals gives Farmington 10 in its two section wins, more than twice its season per game average.

“We are being more supportive in the offensive zone,” Holmes said. “We call it going downhill to the net and this is something we have been getting better at doing together rather than taking turns like we did earlier in the year.”

The Tigers will take on South Suburban Conference champion Lakeville South Thursday night in Owatonna to see who represents Section 1AA in the state tourney. The Cougars won both regular season games with Farmington, 3-1 in the season opener and 4-1 in early January.

“We played them a pretty tight game the first one and the second game was one of the biggest off-nights I have seen from our players both on and off the ice,” Holmes said. “Anyone could have beaten us that night … I think we match up well with South.”

Getting to the section finals had been one of Holmes’ goals since before preseason practice began and now he is ready to add another.

“You have to put yourself in the game to get to a state tournament before that goal can be actualized,” he said.

The title clash will face off at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17, at Four Seasons Center in Owatonna.

Farmington 6, Mayo 1

Farmington (13-11-1) and Rochester Mayo (14-11) sported almost identical season records heading into Wednesday night’s Section 1AA quarterfinal game at Schmitz-Maki Arena. It didn’t take too long to figure out that records can be deceiving.

The Tigers played a rugged 18-game South Suburban Conference schedule as well as nonleague games against Class AA powers Eden Prairie and Maple Grove and Class A-rated Red Wing and New Prague. That rigorous campaign paid postseason dividends in a 6-1 breeze past the Spartans.

“The South Suburban definitely sets us up to be able to compete with any team in the state, and despite having a worse win-loss record than Mayo, it was apparent that our weekly battles had prepped us accordingly,” Tiger coach Jon Holmes said.

“It wasn’t our cleanest game by any means. There were times we played downright sloppy in terms of our positioning and the consistent effort level. We did, however, manage to do exactly what we needed to do by keeping the game in our control on the scoreboard throughout.”

Junior Kiley Braatz and eighth-grader Carly Lancaster each scored twice for Farmington in the opening round-victory which saw the Tigers outshoot Mayo by a 32-21 margin.

Braatz’s two scores were her first of the season and according to her coach, it was just what his team needed.

“She went hard to the net on both goals,” Holmes said. “The third line plays a vital role in every single game, and in a game like this, they can often be the ‘spark’ the rest of the team needs because they are hungry to score and take advantage of opportunities that are not always afforded.”

Leading scorer Ellie Moser kicked off the night’s scoring with her 18th goal of the year just 2:02 into the game. Braatz and Lancaster also scored in the opening period, each with an assist from Marissa Agerter, to give the home team a three-goal lead heading to the first break.

Braatz, assisted by Lexie Budensiek, and Lancaster each notched her second goal of the game by the midway point of the second period to make it 5-0 before the Spartans’ Brooke Haskins finally broke the Mayo scoring drought.

Megan Bernu, assist from Moser, added the finishing touches on the win with a goal with three minutes to play in the second period before the teams skated through a scoreless third period.

Emily Auge drew the starting assignment in goal for the Tigers and finished her fifth win of the season with a 20-save performance.