GRANDVILLE, Mich. – Backed by a hat-trick from Haley Crawford, Inferno Rush outlasted the defending champions, Grand Rapids FC Women, 4-3, in the second semifinal of the United Women’s Soccer National Championship at Grandville High School Saturday.
Inferno Rush will meet the Houston Aces in Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. ET Final. Houston defeated Calgary Foothills FC Women in the first game of the doubleheader.
“When Haley [Crawford] has a hat-trick, you usually don’t have to worry about it,” said Inferno Rush Head Coach Francisco Cleaves, “but [Grand Rapids] is so offensive and we could not stop the crosses coming into the box. They had their chances to level the game and send it into overtime but the ball just bounced our way today.”
After a scoreless 15 minutes, the teams ventured in a see-saw affair with both sides scoring twice during in a six-minute stretch.
Cindy Lay gave Grand Rapids a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute as she followed up her own shot inside the area and hammered home the rebound. Inferno responded less than two minutes later as Tesa McKibben served in a ball from the right flank and Crawford finished off her first goal of the night.
In both of of its Midwest Conference playoff games last week, GRFC showed great resolve every time it conceded a goal by scoring quickly. Saturday was no different as it retook the lead in the 21st minute with a Morgan Otteson tally. But Inferno took a page out of the book of Grand Rapids as it equalized in the 23rd minute. Again, it was the McKibben-to-Crawford connection working beautifully, with Crawford hammering home her second goal of the match.
Inferno took its chance to jump ahead as in the 29th minute. cKibben cut in on her right and ripped a shot from the top of the area past goalkeeper Lauren Kozal for a 3-2 lead. The lead survived only 12 minutes as Lay headed home her second of the night in the 41st minute. The 3-3 halftime score was the most goals that either team had given up in a game through the regular and postseason.
After a six-goal first half, the teams didn’t waste time in getting back into the goal-scoring column.
In the 55th minute, Crawford completed her hat-trick after Grand Rapids failed to clear a Teresa Rook [Rynier] corner. Crawford pounced on a loose rebound in the area to give Inferno a 4-3 lead.
Grand Rapids got an opportunity to level the score in the 63rd minute as Lay got fouled in the box but veteran stalwart Marti Corby put her penalty kick wide to the goalie’s left.
GRFC continued to push the tempo over the remaining minutes but the Inferno defense, despite giving up the most goals that it has allowed this season, held firm and saw out the result. Rush goalkeeper Kelly O’Brien also did her part, recording seven saves.