DRAPER — This year’s motto for the young American Fork girls soccer team is “make a mess.”
Like that annoying kid sister, that’s just what they’ve done in the 6A state soccer tournament.
The Cavemen scored a marker late in the first half and turned to its defense to secure a 1-0 semifinal victory against Northridge, earning a trip to the finals for the second time in three seasons.
“We have a young team and people didn’t expect a lot from us this year,” said senior Andi Baldwin, who had the game-winner for American Fork. “So we just want to come in and make a mess of everything. That’s been our motto all year.”
The Cavemen (17-2-0) — the No. 2 seed in the 6A Tournament — will face No. 5 seed Davis (14-2-3) in Friday’s final at Rio Tinto Stadium, and there is history between the two teams: The Darts eliminated American Fork in the quarterfinals last season.
“What’s really funny is we should have been there last year,” AF coach Derek Dunn said. “But Davis came in and did a great job. I respect Sully (Davis coach Soulivanh Phongsavath) and I respect his team. To sit there and say we want revenge is a bad thing to say. I just think it’s two great teams stepping up. To get back (to the final) with how young we are, it’s awesome. It’s absolutely awesome and well deserved.”
Neither side was able to create many opportunities to score in the first half as both defenses were solid. American Fork finally broke through with just over a minute to play in the half. A free kick from Ragan Fuller found the head of Baldwin in the box. Her header was deflected by the Northridge keeper but Baldwin tapped the rebound into the goal and the Cavemen led 1-0 at the break.
It was the first goal allowed by the Knights in the past four games, including a pair of shutouts in the state tournament.
“I headed it but the keeper saved it, then she bobbled it,” Baldwin said. “I touched it in. I just had to go to goal and get on the end of it. I had to follow the ball. I knew it wasn’t a hard header and I just had to follow it.”
Northridge held possession for the majority of the second half but the American Fork defense was stellar, keeping the Knights from finding any dangerous opportunities in the box and keeping high-scoring Northridge forward Tiani Fonoti in check.
“Really what I liked is just the pressure we put on,” Dunn said. “There were no easy turns. Nothing was easy to turn on us. One person stepped up and then you had the cover, so if someone did get beat they were there.”
The Cavemen thought they had a clinching goal with less than 20 minutes to play when JC Stromberg found the back of the net. But offsides was called and AF went back to work on defense.
“It sounds crazy, but I let my defense do their thing,” Dunn said. “Between my goalie (Haven Empey) and my defense they read the game really well and they work really well together. The last thing you want to do as a coach is to go in and start changing things maybe you don’t see. I love my kids and I trust my kids. I don’t know how else to tell you except I just do the subbing. I just let them play.”
American Fork beat Syracuse 3-1 to win the 2017 6A title while Davis claimed three consecutive titles from 2014 to 2016.
“It’s going to be a battle, let’s be honest,” Dunn said. “It’s going to be a straight battle. Like I said, respect.”