MILWAUKEE — School’s out for summer at Oregon High School, so Panthers junior goalkeeper Melia Moyer didn’t have any homework to keep her busy while she stood in goal Thursday night.
Instead, she spent much of her time at Uihlein Soccer Park shouting encouragement to her teammates during a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal against Brookfield East.
Now, that’s a slight exaggeration: Moyer had to make three saves in 90 minutes on the Uihlein turf. But nothing got past her, that’s for sure — as the Panthers earned a return trip to Saturday’s championship match with a 2-0 victory over the Spartans.
“Our goal is to never have her touch the ball. Like, never,” Oregon senior defender and co-captain Sydney McKee said. “She was never under a lot of pressure, and we like it like that.”
The statistics bear that out, in astonishing fashion. This was Oregon’s 15th shutout in 18 games, and the Panthers (17-0-1) have allowed a total of five goals all season. In her 1,325 minutes in goal, Moyer has had to make only 40 saves — barely more than two per game.
Some unaccustomed to Oregon’s playing style might have found the defensive clampdown a little bit boring. In the first half, for instance, the teams had only three shots and one corner kick between them.
“This game was a little more physical than we’re used to. It’s going to be like that on Saturday, too,” Panthers coach Nelson Brownell said. “But our defense was huge — they came up with huge stops, every time we needed them.”
According to press box chatter, the only record the Panthers set Thursday was number of substitutions in a game. The Panthers made 47 substitutions, often four and once five players at a time. And Brookfield East coach Derrick Banks was quick to switch players up, too, bringing the combined total of substitutions above 80.
But for Oregon, that freshness paid off in the 41st minute. Junior defender Emma Halverson took a ball near the left edge of the penalty box and sent a cross in front of the goal. Junior forward Ashley Hanson took a whack at it, but it was deflected — to senior forward Ella Hughes, who knocked it in at 40:36 against the Spartans (8-13-1).
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“Emma had a great touch and put it in the right place at the right time,” said Hughes, who now has seven goals on the year. “Ashley had a good look at it, but then it came to me and I just tapped it in.”
Oregon’s other goal came 18 minutes into the second half, when junior forward Kaitlin Schrimpf tackled the ball away from an East player not far from midfield and easily outran a defender down the left side of the field, and then knocked a shot to the right past junior goalkeeper Shannon Coryell at 63:13.
“It was scary, but pretty fun … and super-exciting,” Schrimpf said of the breakaway goal. “It was definitely a big confidence boost for us. Up 2-0, we could calm down a little bit more.”
The Panthers will need to be more than calm on Saturday, when they take on the state’s top-ranked team in any division, Whitefish Bay (24-1), at 1:30 p.m. for the Division 2 title.
Brownell — who, much like veteran coach Julie Grutzner, who left the Panthers last year for an out-of-state family job opportunity, is moving away after the season — reminded the Panthers that they’re exactly where they have hoped to be all season.
“It’s something we’ve set since the very first days. It’s our goal — not to get to this game, but to see if we can win it,” Brownell said.
Brookfield East 0 0 — 0
Oregon 1 1 — 2
First half: O — Hughes (Hanson), 40:38.
Second half: O — Schrimpf, 63:13.
Shots: BE 1-4-5; O 2-6-8. Shots on goal: BE 3; O 6. Saves: BE (Coryell) 4; O (Moyer) 3. Corner kicks: BE 2; O 1.