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Lacrosse: West girls fall just short against Mill Creek in semifinals
West Forsyth junior Cami Merkel attempts a shot last year in the Wolverines' semifinal game against Mill Creek. - photo by David Almeda

For just a moment, it all looked eerily similar, in a good way, for West Forsyth’s girls lacrosse team.

Just like in their dramatic comeback win in the quarterfinals, Wolverines were holding just as close against their semifinal opponent, Mill Creek, on Wednesday. After three goals to start the second half, West found itself holding the largest lead of the game from either side at 8-5 with 20 minutes to play.

But just seven minutes later, it was tied again, and with seven minutes to play, the Hawks held a one-point lead. Mill Creek, not interested in taking its chances, didn’t try to score in those final minutes, opting to pass the ball around to run out the clock. The Wolverines couldn’t get enough pressure on the Hawks to get the ball back, and they ultimately fell 11-10 to end their season in the state semifinals. 

West Forsyth's Kate Pulliam takes the ball down the field against Mill Creek on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at West Forsyth High School. - photo by David Almeda
The Wolverines displayed plenty of emotions after the final horn — sadness, frustration, and some anger not just at how the game ended, but at themselves for allowing it to happen.

“We should have won,” Cami Merkel said. “We were up by three and we definitely shouldn't have allowed them to hold the ball for seven minutes. That's just not something that needs to happen, ever.”

West’s offense sprung to life coming out of the halftime break. With 21:54 left, Kate Pulliam broke the tie, and after Merkel scored on a penalty, a Maddie Houlberg goal off a Merkel assist gave the Wolverines their three-goal lead.

But as the second half went on, West began to commit more turnovers and lost most of its draws. Merkel scored her third goal of the day to make it 9-7 with 16:49 to play, but the Hawks ultimately evened the score before taking a 11-9 lead with 12 minutes left. Jenna Burrow got the Wolverines to within one late, but Mill Creek held its final possession long enough to hold on.

“I think the biggest thing for this team, for as young as we are, we still turn the ball over,” West coach Chris Kiefer said. “We still make freshman and sophomore mistakes, which kill us. I think we had close to double the amount of shots they had, but sometimes, we just don't make them.”

Early on, the Hawks were rightfully keying in on Merkel, West’s most dangerous scoring threat. Merkel still played a huge role in the offense despite her one first-half goal, though, with a couple of nice assists leading to two scores. Burrow was the main beneficiary, scoring three goals in the first half, two off well-placed passes from Merkel. Savannah Sabol tied the game at 5-5 right before the break.

“Your team needs you – you're not just going to step back and let them get what they want,” Merkel said. “Moving (around), I got super tired, but I realized I needed to not waste my energy when it's not needed.”

Going into the season, West was dealt an unfortunate loss when its best player, Ella Madson, left for Florida for her senior year. With their subsequent run to the semifinals with a host of freshmen and sophomores, Kiefer is more than confident in the future of his program.

“Let's be honest: We lost our best player, one of the best players in the southeast and we still made it to the Final Four,” Kiefer said. “It says a lot for these girls and it says a lot for their growth as a team. We'll come back, grind it out and keep getting better.”