DIXON – Perhaps the most impressive sight at A.C. Bowers Field on Tuesday night was Mahmoud Etemadi not immediately cracking a smile.
"We lost, we tied, then we will win," Etemadi said, describing his Dixon Duchesses' season series with Sterling following a 1-1 tie. "That's how it works."
The deadpan lasted about 2 seconds before he laughed and said, "We have a lot of respect for the Sterling team." The teams will lock horns with more than Route 2 braggin' rights on the line in a Class 2A regional match next Friday at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
About 20 minutes prior, Etemadi was none too pleased, watching his team surrender the momentum immediately after seizing it on Kirsten DeArvil's crossbar-scraping goal in the game's 57th minute.
"After we scored our goal, our ladies went kind of flat," Etemadi said. "Sterling created momentum and dominated at some times."
Ten minutes of Sterling (6-9-2, 3-2-1 Northern Illinois Big 12) pressure later, freshman Rosa Sanchez rifled a shot from the edge of the penalty box. It caromed off a Dixon (4-5-2, 2-3-1) defender to goaltender Carly Hartle's right, where Kaitlyn Bauer threaded a shot just inside the post.
"I got it on the frame. It was a lucky shot for me," said Bauer, who ran her season total to two after also scoring Monday night. "It got in by about the width of the ball."
With 8 minutes to play, Sanchez headed a ball that fluttered near the post right into Hartle's midsection, her fourth save of the game. Less than 2 minutes later, Ally Johnson triggered Sanchez into space. With Carolina Ortiz flanking right and Bauer left, she put the ball into space for Bauer, who sent a screamer across the goal mouth and just wide.
With 53.7 seconds left, Erika Taylor teed up a free kick about a yard off the corner of the penalty box and sent a nice ball that short-hopped Callie Sinn, but the goalkeeper corralled the ball after initially struggling to grip it.
That was the last threat, the tie evoking mixed reactions.
"I'm not that satisfied," Sinn said. "I wish we would've come out strong like we did last time, and like we did earlier in the week. We didn't play to our ability tonight."
"I wish it would've been a win, but I'm very proud of my team," Dixon senior defender Caitlyn Hawkins said. "I'm ecstatic that we tied. We played our hearts out."
It was Hawkins who triggered DeArvil's third tally of the season with a throw-in from the left sideline near midfield.
"We all knew the play, and we just had to act it out," Hawkins said.
The throw cleared two Sterling players and found Katie Provo, who quickly touched it to DeArvil. The freshman hit her unteenth post of the season. At least that's how it felt.
"I was like, 'Ugh. Another crossbar … I get that from my sister," she said, shaking her head and referring to 2012 grad and former Duchesses standout Allie. "I didn't actually think it went in at first."
But as she turned to head upfield, the ball kissed off the bottom of the crossbar, dropped on the line and rolled in.
"I don't really blame myself," said Sinn, who made two saves, otherwise. "I'm kind of short and I can never get to the tall ones. When they put it off the crossbar, there's nothing I can do about it. So I just get ready for the next one."
About 8 minutes later, Provo beat three Golden Warriors but was run down by Erin Ansusinha in the box, drawing the Dixon faithful's ire.
"There was a no-call that could have been a determining factor," Etemadi said. "But that's the game. Sometimes they call it for you, sometimes they call it against you."
Sterling managed just three shots in the first half, despite having gusting winds at their back that all but vanished when Dixon hoped to have the advantage in the second half.
"I actually looked at the weather report and saw that, as the night went on, it was going to slow down," Sterling coach Brian Cebula said. "I knew we had to get it in the first half. Luckily, we did."
With less than 5 minutes to play in the first half, Hartle made a remarkable save, leaping and stopping an Ally Johnson chip that would've snuck under the crossbar.
"That was spectacular," Hawkins said. "She really knows when to step it up. She sees the play, and she sees everything and tells us what to do. She'll call us off if she wants the ball."
"I think playing basketball helped her," Etemadi said of Hartle. "She's got great hands and an impressive vertical jump. She will be a powerful goaltender for years to come."
The battle between DeArvil and Ansusinha was worth the price of admission alone. They squared off one-on-one five times in the first half, the Sterling junior being the last line of defense. After DeArvil got a quality look on the fourth showdown, Ansusinha went stride for stride with her, forcing her wide with about 6 minutes left in the half.
"They battled all night," Cebula said. "I think it's fitting that the score was a tie. I'll take it."
Star of the game: Carly Hartle, 4 saves
Key performers: Kirsten DeArvil, Dixon, goal; Kaitlyn Bauer, Sterling, goal
Up next: Dixon at Ottawa, Princeton at Sterling, both 6 p.m. Thursday