Rangers clamp Spartans, 2-0

South Knox's Talia Small, right, and Forest Park's Emma Grundhoefer battle for a 50/50 ball in their Class A regional semifinal match Wednesday at South Knox.

South Knox has struggled to score goals at times this season. In the Class A girls soccer regional opener at the Spartans' pitch on Wednesday, No. 3 Forest Park turned the struggle into a near impossibility.

The Rangers entered having allowed just four goals on the season, and that's where the mark stayed as Forest Park hit the net early to take out South Knox, 2-0, and advance to Saturday's regional championship.

It was the 16th shutout of the season for the Rangers (19-1), and it was the sixth time the Spartans (11-6-1) failed to tally.

Forest Park seized control with a goal in the third minute, and they tacked on a second in the 13th minute. The stingy defense made the margin stick, as South Knox put just one shot on goal.

Spartans coach Travis Herb said the Rangers' ability to transition from offense to defense, and vice versa, was what made them so effective.

“They're super quick going from defense to offense. As soon as the ball is won by them, they're all moving on offense, and when the ball comes to their foot, they know what they're going to do with it,” he said. “When they switch to defense, they all move back, and they're making sure you can't get a pass off. They're really good at it.

“That's our challenge moving forward, speeding the game up for our players. That's where we're at now.”

The Rangers' offense went to work early, earning a free kick and putting a shot on goal in the second minute. They kept the pressure up, and with 37:18 remaining, Emma Grundhoefer drilled one from just outside the top of the box into the net for a 1-0 lead.

Possession mostly stayed with Forest Park in the first half, and they extended the margin 10 minutes later. The Spartans were once again on the wrong end of a fortuitous Rangers' bounce, as a deflection ended up near the left post. South Knox keeper Jayda Millspaugh and several defenders raced to clear it, but Abigail Jahn arrived first and sent the ball into the net with 27:13 showing.

The Spartans did well to keep Forest Park off the board for the remainder of the half. The Rangers didn't have any great chances either, aside from several corners and long free kicks. South Knox's best opportunity to score came in the 25th minute. Delaney Foley led Jordyn Derouin with a bouncing throw-in, and Derouin took a shot just outside the top right corner of the box, but it one-hopped comfortably to the Rangers keeper.

“Obviously they scored real quick, right off the bat. But after that, we settled in and played,” Herb said. “I just notice the growth that we've made since I've been here. I have a senior (Derouin) that's played for me since middle school. From the time we started playing together, I wouldn't have expected a 2-0 game in the regional against a good Forest Park team.”

South Knox had even possession with the Rangers for about the first seven minutes of the second half, including earning a corner kick, but the Spartans didn't threaten with a strong opportunity. Millspaugh had a couple nice saves to preserve the two-goal disparity, and she totaled six saves.

Derouin, the team's leading scorer this season, graduates along with forward Talia Small, but with the rest of the roster back, the cupboard certainly isn't bare for the Spartans, who hope to build on the team's first sectional championship next season.

“I only had two years with Talia, but I'm glad I talked her into it. She ran cross country before, but I told her she was too fast for cross country, and I was right,” Herb said. “We really enjoyed having her play for us. What can I say about Jordyn? She put us in this position at the regional this year. The underclassmen owe her a debt for that, because next year hopefully we get back here, and next time they'll know what it's like. They'll know what they need to do.

“We've got a bright future. Although we're losing some good players, we had nine starting that are coming back. I played everyone, and they're all capable of playing with (Forest Park). We worked on some things in the second half, trying to find a spark (on offense), and I think we've got some potential answers for next year.”

The Rangers travel to Providence at 4 p.m. Saturday for the regional championship, and they'll face the host and ninth-ranked Pioneers. Providence (12-5-1) outlasted No. 14 Switzerland County (13-2-2) in a penalty-kick shootout, 3-1, after a 1-1 regulation tie.

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