Ali Clarke scored the winner with 31 seconds remaining in overtime Wednesday to spur top-seeded Colorado Academy to a 2-1 victory over No. 4 Cherry Creek and into the field hockey championship game at All-City Stadium.
Clarke took a short pass from Julia Murphy just in front of the net and took advantage of a rare opportunity in the extra time.
"I told the girls that we have to play another 10 minutes hard, and I told them the first one who scores will be the winner of this game," said Colorado Academy coach Daan Polders. "Then it happened with 30 seconds left on the clock."
Unbeaten Colorado Academy (15-0-2) is in the championship game for the fifth time in its history. The Mustangs have won just once previously, in 1997, the first sanctioned field hockey championship in Colorado.
But Colorado Academy, last season's runner-up, nearly didn't make a return trip to the title game.
Cherry Creek's Catherine Atkinson scored the game's first goal just six minutes in. It was the first time Colorado Academy trailed all season.
"I think that took a little bit away from the dynamics, the chemistry, the flow of the game," Polders said.
And though Murphy evened things up 10 minutes later, it was a first half of missed chances for Colorado Academy. The Mustangs couldn't convert on seven short corner opportunities.
"We should've capitalized on opportunities like that," Polders said. "You cannot miss them in games like this. The playoffs are a different game than the regular season, and you see that. There are no easy games."
Cherry Creek's Claire Kavanaugh nearly scored in the final minute of regulation, but Colorado Academy goalie Railey Zantop-Zimlinghaus made a nice save to send the game to overtime.
Palmer Ridge 5, St. Mary's Academy 0. As sheets of rain gave way to a driving snow that blanketed the turf, Palmer Ridge just continued to roll.
Third-seeded Palmer Ridge cruised past No. 7 St. Mary's Academy 5-0, and to the first championship game appearance in the seven-year history of the district program.
"It's everything," Palmer Ridge coach Paul Lewis said of reaching the title game. "It's our goal, first and foremost, and to achieve it. We thought we had a good chance of doing it last year, and we couldn't get there, and to do it now with such a younger team is amazing."
Palmer Ridge led 3-0 at halftime, added another early in the second half, then eased off the gas as the snow piled up.
Daelynn Demello scored twice, and Briana Knop, Natalie Wisniewski and Jessica Berg also scored.
Palmer Ridge combines with Lewis-Palmer for its roster, and also adds Berg from Air Academy.
The championship game will be a rematch of a 2-1 Colorado Academy win Oct. 10.