DES MOINES — Soccer can be a game of inches.
At least, that’s what Union girls’ soccer head coach Hunter Zemple believed after Thursday afternoon’s Class 1A state tournament quarterfinal at the James W. Cownie Soccer Park Field No. 8. A few inches here and there in the second half, and their game with Gilbert could have been different.
However, a seventh-minute goal by Natalie Rudman was just enough for the fourth-seeded Tigers, as they defeated the No. 5-seed Knights, 1-0. Gilbert will face top-seed Davenport Assumption on Friday morning.
Zemple said that his squad fought hard for the entire contest.
“They didn’t give up until the last second went off the clock,” Zemple said after the match. “We hit the post, and they cleared it pretty much right off the goal line on Riley’s (Rosauer) header.
“Those couple more inches either way, you know, we have two goals, and we’re going on, but that’s just the way soccer is sometimes. I’m very proud of the way they fought throughout the game.”
He said the Knights (14-4) had some issues with play early on, but they were able to right the ship and play with the Tigers (19-0).
“After the first 20 minutes or so, maybe after the first 15, I felt we were the better team,” he said. “Tip your cap to Gilbert. They played a good game, and we’ll hope to be back down here next year.”
Rudman was active within the first several minutes of the match. She was able to get a breakaway run at Union goalkeeper Jasmyn Bush’s net in the third minute, but Rudman’s shot was stopped easily.
But at the 6:07 mark of the game, Rudman got past the Knight defense along her left wing. She then placed a shot between Bush and the near post to record the tally.
Gilbert had another good chance in the 24th minute. Rudman crossed the ball to Eva Steckleberg, but the shot was slapped down by Bush near the crossbar.
Union’s first attempt on frame came in the 28th minute, when a ground-ball shot by Lexi Wagner was easily scooped by Tiger goalie Emma Bulman. She later handled another attempt by Mackenna Hatch in the 32nd minute to keep the first-half score with a 1-0 advantage.
Then just seconds into the second stanza, the Knights early equalized. Katelyn Kucera crossed the ball in the box to Allie Carty, who headed it toward the net, but it glanced off the crossbar without finding nylon.
Three minutes later, Rosauer headed the ball that went over Bulman and several other players on both teams. As Sunshine Gray was chasing it to get the score, Gilbert defender Amy Taylor kicked it over the goal to concede the corner kick. However, the corner yielded a turnover.
Zemple said his team adjusted by playing more precise with the ball early in the half.
“They did what we were trying to accomplish with their combinations and hitting our targets,” he said. “Those first 10 minutes, I think we were a little all over the place, and that’s what kind of cost us.
“We talked about getting off to a fast start, and we did exactly that. We did what we talked about at halftime. A little inch to the left, an inch further, and those are goals.”
Play went back and forth for much of the rest of the final frame. Katelyn Murray and Steckelberg each had shots just before the second-half water break, and Union’s next best chance came in the 71st minute, with Tori Hadachek’s 30-yard try finding Bulman’s mitts.
The final 5 minutes, with Union trying to scramble for the equalizer, was mostly in the Knight half of the field, with the Tigers kicking it to touch several times as well as finding themselves in offside positions trying to counterattack.
With the loss, the Knights say goodbye to seniors Hadachek, Ally Carty, Hatch, Karly Jans, Megan Carty and Chloe Heitman. Zemple called that group “special.”
“They’re great, high-character people,” he said. “I’m going to miss them a lot.
“They hold a close spot to me. It’s kind of that first big group that’s gone through for my five years here. I can’t thank them enough for all of their contributions. Most of them have been playing for three or four years. They made it down to the state tournament twice and semifinals once. It was a very, very good career for them.”