LIVERMORE FALLS — It was only a matter of time.

That what the Lake Region girls’ soccer team might have been thinking Saturday. With a balanced attack of skilled and speedy forwards up front, it seemed inevitable that the Lakers would ultimately cash in and take advantage of a slower and tiring Spruce Mountain defense.

But as the scoreless Western B preliminary game went on and on, the Lakers were finding it a little more challenging than expected.

“We definitely struggled for a while,” junior forward Sydney Hancock said. “All of our shots were right on. We were there. We just had a tough time connecting. We never give up. So we kept coming at it and finally got the shots we needed.”

Ninth-ranked Lake Region’s persistence eventually paid off. The Lakers scored a pair of goals just 1:05 apart late in regulation to beat the No. 8 Phoenix 2-0.

Lake Region (7-7-1) advances to a quarterfinal game against top-ranked Morse.

Hancock and Rachel Wandishin each scored goals, while Laker keeper Emily Bartlett made a crucial stop on a penalty kick early in the game to preserve the shutout.

“It definitely showed how the game was going to go,” Bartlett said of her save on Alexi Deering. “We all just brought it together. “

While the Lakers generated some quality scoring chances throughout the game, the Phoenix (7-8) struggled to do so. Most of the Spruce Mountains shots came from long distance, and few challenged Bartlett after the penalty kick.

“They played really tough defensively,” Spruce Mountain coach Jon Blaisdell said. “I kept trying to send people up. One problem we had was our midfield wasn’t getting up to support our forwards. That didn’t help us.”

The Lakers did a fine job marking up Deering. After she drew the foul for the penalty kick, Lake Region didn’t allow her to get much space. The Phoenix tried to generate support for her but not much was working.

“Kayla Gray was the one that stayed on her the whole game,” said Hancock, who had a brief stint on Deering, as well. “She kept right with her and didn’t let her touch the ball. If she did, she ran right with her. We always had help in back. We really shut her down, which is what we were trying to do.”

Deering had a couple of shots from the wing in the second half, but it was the Lakers with the best opportunities. Hancock and Wandishin worked well together. Hancock shot wide a couple of times and Wandishin had a bid saved by Spruce Mountain keeper Emily Keene.

Then with 7:10 left in regulation, a Theresa Butler pass from the midfield went over a defenders head. That sent Hancock in alone. She just tipped the ball on net and past Keene.

“She sent it over,” Hancock said. “I knew it was going to be a beautiful ball. I had to make sure I was onside. I ran as fast as I could. I knew the goalie was coming out. I tried to place it, but it just went right through her. I was really happy that it went through.”

Before the Phoenix had a chance to regroup, a breakdown defensively allowed Wandishin the steal the ball and go in alone for the second goal with 6:05 remaining.

“We ran out of gas a little bit,” said Blaisdell, whose team wasn’t accustomed to the larger Livermore Falls rec field, while the Lakers played on larger surfaces. “You could see it. I subbed more conservatively in the second half too, hoping to spring somebody. Our conditioning showed up a little in the second half.”

It was a pretty even game early, and when Deering drew a foul just 11:51 into the game, the Phoenix had the chance to seize the momentum. Her shot went right towards Bartlett.

“The only thing I watch is the ball,” Bartlett said. “I was watching where her feet go. I just took a deep breather and hoped that I got it.”

The senior goalie made the first stop but as she fell and rolled a little, she couldn’t hold possession. The ball started to roll over her body and toward the net. She reached back at the last moment to secure it.

“I could feel it moving,” she said. “The first thing is the initial save. Then after that, it was just instinct.”

The Lakers had a pair of quality shots late in the half. Wandishin hit the post and put a direct kick wide.

“We knew they were going to be tough defensively and Lexi is always marked up by one or two,” Blaisdell said. “She’s used to it. There just wasn’t a lot of clean shots.”

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