Darby Thomas helps Abraham Lincoln stun defending champion Ames in regional soccer semifinals

Tied at one goal apiece in the regional semifinal against Class 3-A defending champion Ames, it was clear what the Abraham Lincoln girls needed to do to stay alive.

They had held their own on defense, but their hopes of advancing rested on the fast feet of Darby Thomas — and their ability to turn a counterattack into a celebration.

With about 10 minutes left in the match, it finally happened. Freshman Crystena Keesee — known to her team by her childhood nickname, Stan — found Thomas 30 yards away from the goal. The junior dribbled through Ames’ center backs and buried the go-ahead goal in the bottom right corner from 12 yards out.

“Stan played an amazing ball, obviously,” said Thomas, who has 15 goals on the year. “All I remember is that Hope (Riche) and Julia (Wagoner) and Stan all came up to me, and they were freaking out. It was what we were working toward the whole game. We’re always working on combination plays. It worked out perfectly.”

A.L. goalkeeper Rilee Filip and the Lynx’s back line of Maria Martinez, Brooke Wohlers, Taren Newman and Alexis Pomernackas turned away Ames’ threats to equalize down the stretch, sealing a 2-1 stunner over the fifth-ranked team in 3-A on the road.

“It was the longest 10 minutes of my life,” A.L. coach Robbie Miller said. “We knew we were playing defensively, and we sat back and still played the counterattack. And the clock just seemed like it was going slower and slower. But we denied every opportunity they had.”

Filip, who was often under heavy pressure, finished with 15 saves.

On Monday, the Lynx will face Sioux City North in the Class 3-A, Region 1 final at 6 p.m. at a site to be determined. North upset No. 11 Sioux City East 2-0 in the other semifinal.

A.L.’s counterattacks have been the team’s bread and butter all season, and it came through yet again on Wednesday. But on the other end of the pitch, the Lynx benefited from mixing it up.

For the first time, they used Martinez as a marking back, in an attempt to contain Ames leading scorer Grace Nelson (19 goals), shadowing her wherever she went.

“It was very difficult,” Martinez said. “She was making a lot of good runs and was very good on the ball, so it was hard to follow her.

“I wanted to step on to other players, but I knew I had to stick to that one player, because I knew that was what’s most important.”

The experiment worked. Martinez limited Nelson to just one good look, which she finished to give the Little Cyclones a 1-0 lead with 13 minutes left in the first half.

The Lynx answered 10 minutes later when Riche capitalized on a Newman free kick. Newman served it, and when the keeper couldn’t haul it in, Riche was there to take it off her foot and put it away to tie the match.

It stayed that way until Thomas netted the match-winner.

“There were just so many emotions at once,” Thomas said. “We worked really hard to get here. The season wasn’t as good as we hoped, but the outcome is beyond what we would have imagined.”

Now, the Lynx (12-6) are one win away from the state tournament. They have to best a 9-7 team that they beat 4-1 earlier in the season to make it happen.

“East just lost to North; anything can happen,” Miller said. “An underdog can win. Tonight, we were the underdog, and we came out and took them.

“We’re not going to be overlooking them.”

CB Abraham Lincoln (12-6)........1 1 — 2

Ames (12-5)............................1 0 — 1

Goals: Ames, Grace Nelson; AL, Hope Riche, Darby Thomas.

Assists: AL, Taren Newman, Crystena Keesse.

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