MILWAUKEE — Sarah McLaughlin tried and tried and tried some more.
The senior knew that if her Waunakee girls soccer team was going to dig itself out of a two-goal hole in the final 28 minutes of Friday’s game, her right foot would provide one of the most likely solutions.
She did get one goal back, converting a penalty kick with 9 minutes, 30 seconds to play. But that was it, as Waunakee’s season ended with a 2-1 loss to Muskego in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal at Uihlein Soccer Park.
“I had four or five shots that just didn’t fall. That was hard to see,” McLaughlin said. “It’s hard because those are goals I had finished during the season.”
Waunakee’s season scoring leader was able to deliver her 25th goal after a hand ball against Muskego senior Brooke Dougherty in the penalty box.
Taking advantage of a substantial wind in the second half, Waunakee peppered Muskego senior goalkeeper Cailey Radtke with 15 shots — after getting off only one shot in the first half.
“We were a little bit off today,” said Ben Voss, in his second year as Waunakee’s coach after coming over from Madison Memorial. “We thought it was our turn, but we never really got into a groove.
“You can’t get into a rhythm when it’s touch-touch-out of bounds, touch-touch-out of bounds. And that’s how this game went.”
Said Waunakee senior captain Maddie Farnsworth: “We didn’t get a lot of balls into the wing space, which is where we like to work from. When we started to attack, we hit the crossbar a couple of times and she (Radtke) made a couple of nice plays.”
Muskego had the wind at its back in the first half and took advantage at 13:45 when sophomore forward Heather Blair outran the defense to knock in a long pass from senior Mackenzie Balcerak.
“Our left middle worked it up the sideline and I knew I had to hurry up to the box, so I sprinted up and the ball was right there and I tapped it in,” Blair said of her ninth goal of the year.
“Our back line misplayed the ball instead of stepping up to it,” Voss said. “It was a nice little tap-in.”
In the second half, Blair helped Muskego deliver a crushing blow, scoring in the 62nd minute to make it 2-0. Balcerak delivered a throw-in that Blair was able to flick to her right to junior Jackie Jares, who knocked it in from close range.
It was only the fourth time all season that Waunakee had given up two goals in a game.
“That was a tough one,” Farnsworth said. “We’ve come back from behind before, but 2-0 was tough.”
Waunakee’s inability to trim its deficit was not from lack of effort. Junior Isabelle Barmore sent a screamer of a free kick over the crossbar. Back-to-back attempts by McLaughlin and freshman Lexis Savola were saved in traffic.
McLaughlin’s penalty kick came after a corner kick by Barmore from the left side that curled to bounce off the crossbar and resulted in the hand-ball call on Dougherty.
“I was ready to go back in and finish it, but she had both her arms up and bumped it,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin asked for the chance to try the penalty kick and — after two pauses to replace the ball after wind blew it off the mark — sent it to the left, past Radtke.
In the frantic final minutes, the Warriors’ best chance came when Barmore tried a blast from about 22 yards out that Radtke reached up to grab, but not until after a tantalizing bobble.
“Muskego capitalized on their chances and we didn’t,” Voss said. “And then we just ran out of time.”
Waunakee 0 1 — 1
Muskego 1 1 — 2
First half: M — Blair (Balcerak), 13:45.
Second half: M — Jares (Blair), 61:51; W — McLaughlin (pk), 80:30.
Shots: W 1-15-16; M 4-3-7. Shots on goal: W 10; M 2. Saves: W (Kuhn) 0; M (Radtke) 9. Corner kicks: W 5; M 1. Yellow cards: M 1 (Dougherty, 80:30).