BEMIDJI – Rachel Bitter knew East Grand Forks would be fired up to play her Bemidji Lumberjacks Tuesday night. After all, the Lumberjacks had upset the Green Wave 2-1 in the section finals en route to their first-ever state tournament appearance last season.
“We knew they wanted to beat us,” Bitter said. “I heard that all summer they were using a picture of us with the section championship trophy as motivation in practice. So we really wanted to come out and make a statement.”
Bitter certainly helped the Lumberjacks draft a convincing opening argument. The freshman forward scored the game-winning goal with eight minutes to go and the Lumberjacks held on for a 3-2 victory.
“They had a lot of shots on goal, so we were lucky to get ahead early,” BHS head coach Kelly Schoonover said. “As the game wore on (East Grand Forks) didn’t wear down.
“They’re a good team, and we’re excited to walk away from this game with a win.”
Bemidji (4-1) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead but the Wave (3-1-1) countered to tie the game just minutes into the second quarter.
From there, East Grand Forks seemed to cruise, dominating possession and shots on goal.
But Bitter found the one opening the Lumberjacks would need and took it.
With just over eight minutes to go, she saw that the green-shirted defenders assigned to guard the back line had a bad angle on her. Sophomore Maea Wall, who had the ball, must have seen the same thing, too.
She found Bitter streaking in the midfield circle and sent it her way.
When Bitter got the ball, she did the rest, turning on her speed and torching the Green Wave defenders. Soon, she had only goalkeeper Sam Rarick to beat, which she did easily, firing a bullet on the ground and beating her to the left for the score.
“I saw they had left the gate open for me, almost,” Bitter said of the angle she had on the four members of the East Grand Forks back line. “All I had to do was outrun them.
“I knew we had to get a goal, so I just did whatever it took to score.”
The Lumberjacks went up 2-0 early. Erin Booth notched the game’s first goal in the 20th minute, getting a ricochet off a Green Wave defender and knocking it in to make it 1-0.
A few minutes later, the Wall found freshman Rachel Gray with a through ball from the far corner. Grey tapped it in to make it 2-0 in the 28th minute.
But East Grand Forks rallied late in the first half.
Madi Galstad deflected a ball off a Bemidji defender in the 38th minute to cut Bemidji’s lead in half at 2-1.
And only three minutes into the second half, the Wave tied it on an absolute rocket from 15 yards out by Collette Piche.
“We got a little tired in the second half,” Schoonover said. “We had a hard time keeping possession and they were able to tie it up.”
The Wave outshot the Lumberjacks 16-6 overall and 6-3 in the second half.
Credit Bemidji keeper Casey Palmer for giving the Jacks the chance to win. She made 14 saves, including some impressive ones late.
“She played a fantastic game,” Schoonover said. “All in all she kept us in the game.”
The Wave actually had a terrific chance to tie with a minute left, getting a shot from about 10 yards out. But Palmer left her feet, sprawled out to her right and denied the goal. That effectively ended the game.
The Jacks return to the pitch Thursday, traveling to Crookston to take on another conference rival at 5:30 p.m.
Bemidji 3, East Grand Forks 2
EGF1 1 – 2
Bemidji2 1 – 3
B – Booth, 20:00
B – Grey (Wall), 28:00
EGF – Galstad, 36:00
EGF – Piche, 43:00
B – Bitter (Wall), 72:00