BAXTER - Two teams a little miffed by the Section 8-2A seedings bumped into each other on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the first round of the section tournament at Southdale Field.
The Brainerd Warriors and Buffalo Bison both thought they should have been seeded higher. Buffalo, the fifth seed, proceeded to upend the fourth-seeded Warriors 3-1, denying Brainerd a trip to its seventh straight section final.
Brainerd went 2-1-1 in section play, which on paper appeared good enough for the No. 2 seed behind 3-1 Elk River. In addition, the Warriors beat second-seeded Moorhead. But section coaches thought otherwise.
"I thought with two wins and a tie in (section) play that would at least put us second or third," Warriors coach Sara Rojas said. "It was really close in the middle with Buffalo (2-2-0), St. Michael-Albertville (3-2-0) and Moorhead (2-2-0), but (St. Cloud) Tech ranked us fifth, and that brought us down. That put Moorhead second, which was a shock to myself.
Staci Gunnarson (right) defended against a Buffalo player in Brainerd's Section 8-2A playoff loss to the Bison on Saturday.
Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls
"It doesn't make any sense. I don't know if there's more to it than that, I would like to think there's not."
Bison coach Steve Doimer also thought his team should be seeded higher than fifth in a 6-team section.
"I can't put my finger on it," he said. "First of all it's not a face-to-face meeting because we're spread all over the state. That's part of the issue. We are a small section so we do it via e-mail. I generally go by records and competitive schedules, but there's agendas in there too, so who knows?"
Seeding didn't matter once the opening whistle blew. Buffalo established control and often kept the Warriors' offense near midfield.
Buffalo 3, Warriors 1
The key: The Bison scored twice in the first 22 minutes.
Overall: Brainerd finishes 10-4-3, Buffalo 10-6-3
Olivia Haggerty put the Bison ahead 1-0 at the 17:57 mark with a top-shelf shot from about 20 feet.
Less than two minutes later, teammate Rachel Mussell hit the crossbar. Mussell didn't miss 83 seconds later, smacking an approximate 40-foot shot that narrowly went past the outstretched fingertips of Warriors keeper Cami Andersen.
At the 28:54 mark, Brainerd freshman Hannah Lundstrom made it a game, converting a perfect crossing pass from Alese Waters and booting it past Bison keeper Michelle Lang.
But the Warriors didn't have many offensive chances after that.
"They played really defensive in the second half," Rojas said. "We had it mostly in our side the second half. The first half they kind of dominated us. We had a slow start. The second we had more opportunities but they kind of packed it in defensively so there weren't a lot of through options, which was how we were able to score that first time.
"They just played a more defensive game the second half with the lead, to kind of seal the deal, then they got one through. They had a couple of through balls because they have some speed up front."
And defense on the back end.
"My defense and midfield has kept our goals against to an absolutely tremendous number," Doimer said. "I can't say enough about my defense, they've just been solid all season. They keep us in every game."
The Bison had a goal disallowed in the 57th minute for knocking the ball out of Andersen's hands. Haggerty scored an insurance goal with 14:21 left.
Brainerd, which finishes 10-4-3, will graduate 11 seniors but 11 underclassmen from the playoff roster could return.
"We've just got to look forward to next year," Rojas said, "but it's not going to be easy. We lose a lot of seniors, really quality seniors, and I know that they're disappointed."
Buffalo 2 1 - 3
Brainerd 1 0 - 1
First half: Buf-Olivia Haggerty 17:57; Buf-Rachel Mussell 21:13; Brd-Hannah Lundstrom (Alese Waters) 28:54
Second half: Buf-Haggerty (Tyrah Whisler) 65:39
Shots on goal: Buf 14, Brd 11
Goalkeepers: Buf-Michelle Lang (10 saves), Brd-Cami Andersen (11 saves)
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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