“It was a great battle,” Dudukovich said. “They were a great team. They had an answer for our goal in the first half. We only had a few minutes to get another one. Losing wasn’t an option for us.”
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Undefeated Lakota West (21-0-2) will play another unbeaten squad, Whitehouse Anthony Wayne (22-0), in the D-I state championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus.
“It was our goal all season and now it’s becoming real,” Dudukovich said. “One more game, it’s unreal to me. It’s crazy. The season has gone by so fast. I just love this team. They’re like my family.”
The Firebirds will be seeking their first state title since winning their lone championship 1999. Anthony Wayne will be making its first appearance in the state final.
“One team will come out of the state final undefeated and we hope it’s us,” said Firebirds coach Brigit Reder.
Dudukovich, an Ohio State University commit, gave the Firebirds a 1-0 lead with 26 minutes remaining in the first half, beating the Shamrocks keeper to the near right post on a header from a corner kick.
Early in the season, Reder had challenged Dudukovich to be more dangerous on set pieces, especially with her size and athleticism.
“We asked her to use her head to find the end of some of those (set pieces),” Reder said. “Since that conversation, she’s put three or four in with her head. (She’s) big time.”
Dublin Coffman tied the score with 14 minutes remaining when a Shamrocks corner kick found the foot of Emma Barthel, who knocked the ball into the net.
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A few minutes later, the Firebirds took the lead when Dudukovich passed the ball to teammate Claudia Gibson, whose shot ricocheted off the keeper’s hands. Dudukovich was there to tap in the rebound to send Lakota West to the state finals.
“It was a great shot by Claudia, so I can’t take all the credit,” Dudukovich said of the game-winning goal, her 48th of the season.
The Firebirds never doubted the winning goal would come, Reder said, especially with nine seniors helping keep them composed on the field and on the bench.
“We put them in high-intensity environments in training and we’ve seen games where they’ve had to battle back or hold on for a win or gain a win back,” Reder said. “I never doubted. They held their composure, they took care of business and that’s exactly what we expect.”
The girls soccer state final matches at MAPFRE Stadium were moved from Friday to Saturday this season due to the United States Women’s National Team match against Sweden being held Thursday — which adds to the excitement, Reder said.
“The entire weekend, the entire atmosphere, having them be in the chairs the national team sat in and truly embrace that environment, it’s going to be awesome for them,” she said.