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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Friday, October 4, 2019

The Lady Tigers were all smiles after splitting the NLC championship with Northridge Thursday. (Photos by James Costello)

WARSAW — Warsaw’s Northern Lakes Conference soccer championship was brought to you by the number 11.

With her team trailing by a goal in the final seconds of Thursday’s NLC title match with visiting Northridge, senior Abby Steffensmeier — bearing the Lady Tigers’ number 11 jersey — finished off a hard, low drive into the far corner of the net with exactly 11 seconds on the clock to force a draw with the Raiders. And that equalizer gave both teams equal parts of the conference co-championship on senior night in Warsaw.

“Walking out of this game last year when we did not come out on top, the circumstances that took place, I’m really happy to walk out with a draw against a quality team like Northridge. Every year it’s a battle with them,” said Warsaw coach Jon Hoover.

“I’m thrilled for our seniors. I’m thrilled for Abby to score that goal with 11 seconds left. With her jersey being 11 and everything, it’s a storybook ending for us.”

Abby Steffensmeier takes a shot while Northridge’s Izzi Bradley tries to defend in the first half.

The career scoring leader for Warsaw, Steffensmeier never took a break in Thursday’s NLC title rematch with Northridge, but after 80 grueling minutes she still had enough gas in the tank to break free on a solo run up the middle for the deciding score, putting away goal number 78 to help her team snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat.

“She didn’t get any rest all night. She was making those runs. I thought all night she was going to get one. She was just off on a few shots, and (Northridge keeper) Hope (Stacker) made a few good saves,” recalled Hoover. “I’m thrilled that she had the legs left in her to get to that ball. It was a clinical finish, and to have her walk out on senior night like that, I’m just happy for her and happy for her family that she gets to experience this. She’ll remember this night for the rest of her life.”

Despite a hefty shots-on-goal advantage by Warsaw, it was the Raiders who broke through first in the 52nd minute when Lauren Kollat got behind the Tigers back line and slotted away a go-ahead that looked like it would remain the game’s only goal until Steffensmeier’s very late heroics.

“She was moving at pace while we were just standing still, and she got a great ball through our back line,” said Hoover. “One v one with the keeper, she’s a good player, and she just put it away like good players do.”

Warsaw led in pretty much every statistical category with 10 shots on goal to Ridge’s five and six corner kicks to only one by the Raiders. But Stacker made some impressive saves for her team, particularly over an eight-shot first half by the Tigers, most of the pressure coming through Steffensmeier and junior Audrey Grimm.

Audrey Grimm battles with Kylie Tesman for a 50-50 ball in the second half.

“Hope is just a fantastic keeper. She kept them in the game with some great saves, and that happens in big games. She stepped up on our senior day, had a great game for them,” said Hoover.

No doubt, Class 3A No. 19 Warsaw would rather have been greedy with the NLC title, but Thursday’s draw had the feel of a moral victory against a skilled Northridge side. There were a handful of chippy moments  between the buzzers with NLC stakes on the line, but the combatants showed one another nothing but respect after the game as they posed together for a group picture and even prayed together at center field before breaking for the night.

“I love playing against Northridge. They’re a great team. (Northridge coach) Chris (Mallott) and I, it seems like every time we play we’re playing a chess match with formations and where he’s moving people around,” Hoover said. “We love playing these high-quality matches against good teams. I loved seeing at the end, both teams taking a picture together, praying together like we just saw. We respect their program. They respect us. I’ve got nothing but praise to say for them as well.”

Warsaw and Ridge posed together for a group photo following Thursday’s NLC split.

Posted In: Girl's Sports > Soccer