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How physical was the matchup between the Evanston and Loyola Academy girls soccer teams in the Class 3A soccer sectional tournament semifinal Tuesday at Lazier Field?
So physical that a tackle – by the Loyola goalie – led to the only score of the hard-fought contest.
In a game that featured a half dozen yellow cards for hard tackles, and numerous other fouls, the Wildkits prevailed 1-0 on a penalty kick by Nahla Dominguez and advanced to the sectional championship game Friday against rival New Trier. The top-seeded Trevians eliminated Glenbrook North 1-0 in the other sectional semi.
Dominguez’s goal in the 8th minute decided the outcome after ETHS forward Breayln Viamille was knocked to the turf by Rambler keeper Elllie Bradley in the mouth of the goal. Viamille likely would have beaten Bradley in a 1-on-1 matchup without the foul, but instead, Dominguez buried a penalty shot in the lower right corner to boost the hosts to an early lead.
Evanston’s defense blanked the visitors after that and Loyola suffered only its second loss in a 16-2-2 season. Both defeats came against Evanston, which stayed alive with a record of 16-2-3.
“It was a battle the whole game, a hard-fought battle, and it was definitely the most physical game we’ve played all year,” said Wildkit head coach Stacy Salgado. “It was very heated out there. Nobody wanted it to be their last game.
“We’ve grown as a team since the last time we played them [a 3-2 triumph] and they’ve also grown, so we knew this would be a tough game. Overall, they’re the most physical team we’ve played.”
Loyola dominated the time of possession by a wide margin in the first half. Yet the Ramblers were only able to put 4 shots on goal, a testament to the 1-on-1 skill shown by Evanston defenders Ruby Rogers, Sarah Sollinger, Carly Menocal, and Lucinda Lindland all season, but in particular on Tuesday night.
In one stretch lasting about two minutes on the clock, Sollinger blocked a dangerous attempt by Loyola’s Kaitlyn Kurtz with her legs; Menocal shielded the ball from a Rambler attacker as the ball rolled harmlessly out of bounds for an ETHS goal kick; and Lindland stole the ball from a bewildered foe, Loyola star Grace Ehlert.
Add six saves from ETHS keeper Caitlin Fitzpatrick and the Ramblers suffered a shutout loss for the first time this season.
“Ideally, we’d like to have a balance between a cohesive defensive unit and that 1-on-1 skill,” Coach Salgado said. “We’d like to have both. We don’t get a chance to practice that 1-on-1 defense as much as I’d like to. With our formation, we need good 1-on-1 play back there because they’re put in that situation quite often. They’re all strong individual players in the back and they’ve made a lot of progress playing together [as a unit], too. They know the attacking players on the other team, who has a heavy touch on the ball, who has speed so you have to give them more room. We have to trust them a lot to make our formation work.
“Loyola definitely had some dangerous opportunities tonight, and we got lucky a few times when they didn’t convert. But we were unlucky a few times ourselves.”
Fitzpatrick smothered a shot with her chest in the 15th minute and the Wildkits dodged a bullet just before halftime when they were whistled for a clock-stopping foul with 3 seconds remaining. Emily Pikarski’s free kick from the 20-yard line found teammate Kurtz, but her header caromed off the far post to preserve Evanston’s 1-0 advantage.
The Wildkits are next up to try to deny a New Trier powerhouse program that is seeking its seventh straight trip to the Final Four in Class 3A. The two teams tied 1-1 when they met for the second time in Central Suburban League South division play, after the Trevians won the first round matchup by a 2-0 margin.
“We need to come out hungry; we need to play with confidence. Our girls are excited to play them again,” Coach Salgado said. “This group believes we can beat them. We just have to execute.”