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Alma falls to Hemlock, will look to clinch program's first-ever conference title outright Friday WITH GALLERY

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The celebration will have to wait until Friday.

Alma High School's varsity girls soccer team clinched a share of the program's first-ever conference title last week, but Tuesday evening on its home field the opportunity was there for the taking to win the Tri-Valley Conference Central championship outright.

Instead, the Panthers were outlasted by Hemlock by a 2-1 final to keep the commemorative TVC Central title t-shirts in the bag for a few more days.

Alma will host Chesaning Friday evening to put the finishing touches on the outright conference title. Earlier this season, the Panthers rolled to an 8-0 victory over the Redskins.

“We were hoping to clinch tonight but we'll have two more shots at it,” Panthers head coach Nick O'Neill said. “It started out well with the early goal and we were playing with some confidence, but then they caught us over the top. It looked to me like she was offside, but the call was what it was and it really changed the game.”

Alma (10-4, 7-1) took a 1-0 lead at the 27:23 mark of the first half as junior midfielder Sydney Hanson sliced through the defense before feeding junior striker Tia Everdeen, who finished in front of an open net.

But the Huskies drew even four-plus minutes later as Emma Sollner drifted back to a position deemed sufficiently onside by the officials before lofting a perfectly placed shot over the head of Panthers junior goalie Abby Schmieder.

Several good scoring chances for Alma the rest of the first half went by the wayside, including a breakaway attempt by Everdeen with 8:02 left in the half that was turned aside by the Hemlock goalkeeper.

“We had some chances to put it away,” O'Neill remarked. “We could have had two or three more goals in the first half. Tia had a couple breakaways she couldn't convert on. When you don't convert those chances, you really start to play tight and that's what we did. Hemlock also did a good job of putting pressure on us all game.”

The Huskies caught a break in the second half for what turned out to be the deciding goal as a hand ball in the box led to a penalty shot, which was converted to give the visitors a 2-1 advantage with 25:35 left.

Schmeider made six saves for the Panthers in the losing effort.

“We would have liked to get it done against a good team like Hemlock,” O'Neill stated. “But to accomplish the goal of winning our first conference championship and pretty much knowing we have that in the bag regardless of how today went is special. We need to gear up and get right before we hit districts.”

Alma is also playing short-handed as two sophomore starters, Cornelia Gotaas and Emma Licina, are both out for the season with injuries.

“We lose depth,” O'Neill added. “When you lose a starter, you have to move people around. When you lose two starters, the girls you have coming off the bench are coming in earlier and getting more minutes. So there's an adjustment period with that. Coming into the game, I thought we were pretty far along with that. But after today, it shows we still have some progress to make.”

Friday's home game for Alma against Chesaning will start at 6 p.m.

Last Updated: 5/16/2017 9:45:11 PM EST