LADUE • The two-time defending state girls lacrosse champion appeared to be in serious trouble.
MICDS, following a stunning mid-April loss to Marquette, stood at a disappointing 1-8.
Five of those losses came to powerful out-of-state competition, but setbacks to St. Joseph’s, Lafayette, and the Mustangs were especially troubling as the Rams had not lost to a team from Missouri in the previous two seasons.
But those days are long gone.
A dramatic season turnaround came full-circle on Wednesday as Gini Howell and Anna Lochhead scored late second half-goals and the Rams withstood a two-player disadvantage in the final minutes to knock off Cor Jesu 11-10 in a quarterfinal thriller at MICDS.
The Rams are making their eighth successive appearance in the Missouri Scholastic Lacrosse Association final four.
“I think we knew deep within ourselves that we could do it,” senior captain Kiki Arnold said. “But, I think a lot of other people doubted us and thought this was just a rebuilding year.”
The semifinals, scheduled for Thursday, and are both rematches of classic one-goal games played earlier this season. MICDS (10-8) will play St. Joseph’s (12-5) at 3:30 p.m. at John Burroughs while Lafayette (20-0) will host Summit (16-1) in a power-packed match-up at 4 p.m.
MICDS, which has won nine in a row, scored the final two goals of the first half, and when the halftime buzzer was joined in harmony with a tornado siren on Tuesday, the match was paused with the Rams enjoying a 6-4 lead.
Livie Warren un-paused it on Wednesday with two quick goals that put the Rams ahead by four, but Cor Jesu (11-3) continued to battle, and when MICDS midfielder Arden Lilly was assessed a penalty midway through the second half, the tide turned.
“Our word of the year is relentlessness - to just get after it,” Cor Jesu coach Andrew Shipp said.
MacKenzie Fraser scored twice during those two minutes to cut the deficit to 8-6, and Cor Jesu kept charging as Taylor Etling, Lauren Koesterer, and Fraser, with her sixth of the game, tied the score 9-9.
After Howell gave MICDS the lead with a free position shot, Arnold was assessed a penalty, but Lochhead, one of three starting freshmen, raced down the right side of the field and scored shorthanded, giving the Rams a two-goal cushion.
The Rams could not breathe easy. They were assessed a second penalty moments later, and Shea O’Connor cut the MICDS lead to one with 3 minutes 16 seconds remaining.
“Our plan was to play really good, solid defense without fouling so we could earn the ball back,” Arnold said. “Then, once we had it, try to move the ball faster than the other team’s feet, and not to stall, but just be really smart with the ball.”
Warren scooped up a contested ground ball with two minutes to play and Lilly made a key interception that expired the penalty time, and eventually the final seconds.
For Lilly, who scored three first-half goals on Tuesday, this trip to the final four may be the most satisfying of her four-year career.
“With all the hiccups we’ve had this season, it’s quite honestly the best feeling ever,” Lilly said. “We’re proving people wrong, and we’re filling the shoes of (the eight seniors) we lost from last year.”
Those season-long hiccups appeared to be cured upon Olivia Proctor’s return from injury. Proctor, a Harvard commit, suffered a hamstring injury in the first game, forcing her to miss the first eight games. Back in the lineup, Proctor scored 22 goals and delivered 14 assists in just five games, and the Rams started to win again.
But at the end of April, she suffered a season-ending knee injury, and left MICDS with a sense of uncertainty.
“When (the second injury) happened, we were all defeated,” Lilly said. “We had to remind ourselves that we can do it if we just continue to put the time and effort in.”
Proctor, dressed in a matching outfit as her coaches, stood on the sideline cheering on her teammates and offering sage advice.
“She is the best assistant coach,” Arnold said.
Despite winning five of the last six area championships, MICDS may not be the clear favorite heading into the state semifinals, having lost to both St. Joseph’s and Lafayette earlier this season.
“I think it’s awesome to be the underdog,” Lilly said. “It lights a fire under us to prove everybody wrong.”
And now riding a nine game winning streak, MICDS has returned to a familiar place, the state semifinals.
“You’ve got to lose some to really learn what you are capable of doing,” MICDS coach Kate Haffenreffer said.
Arnold added, “The Rams are back in town.”