SANDPOINT – Stop us if you’ve heard something similar before: A team’s scoring leader goes down with what quite possibly could be a season-ending knee injury and her team, inspired by their fallen hero, rallies to win.
Sandpoint Bulldogs senior forward Bailey Hewitt crumpled to the ground 23 minutes into the match Thursday in excruciating pain, clutching her left knee, after being bumped by a CdA defender. Still in shock by what had happened, Sandpoint watched visiting Coeur d’Alene take a 1-0 lead about 7 minutes later.
The Bulldogs, behind two goals from Alicia Mertz, fought back to capture their second straight regional championship, topping the Vikings 2-1 in overtime.
Sandpoint (13-3-4) advances to state and will face District III third-place team Capital (14-4-2) when the tournament begins Thursday. Coeur d’Alene (10-5-4) can still earn a state berth. The Vikings take on District III fifth-place team Centennial (13-6-1) in a play-in match Saturday at Lewiston.
Mertz scored the winner in the 94th minute on a penalty kick after freshman Ellie Engel was fouled by CdA backup goalie Kaitlyn Nearing as the players were scrambling for a ball just right of the goal. Mertz slipped her kick into the right side of the net, just past a diving Nearing.
“I always have to clear my head right before I take it and I can’t look at the keeper,” Mertz said. “I look straight at the ball and watch my foot directly hit it, but I know that I’m going to go to the right side every time.”
Mertz said the Bulldogs knew they had to win for Hewitt.
“At halftime we heard about her (going) to the emergency room and we were like, ‘We’ve got to win this game for Bailey’ because she’s the star player,” Mertz said.
The Bulldogs certainly played with more emotion in the second half, and Mertz gave her team a lot to be excited about 3 minutes into the half. She took a free kick from 50 yards out and it sailed and it sailed and it dropped just under the cross bar into the net.
Just seconds before the deciding shot, Nearing made a diving save off a point-blank shot by senior Brittany Oakley.
Nearing came into the game in the 67th minute after starting keeper Christine Woeller collided with Sandpoint’s Brittany Clawson on the goal line. Woeller clutched the ball and landed hard on her head. She left the match and didn’t return. CdA coach Tarragh Carr said later that she’s sure Woeller is fine and will be able to play Saturday. Woeller had a knot on the back of her head.
CdA had some chances to win in regulation.
“Opportunities are wonderful, but you need to capitalize on one more than the opposition,” Carr said. “I’m extremely confident that we’re going to make it to state.”