Tournament officials pushed the starting time for the Class 3A New Trier Supersectional soccer game up one hour in anticipation of severe weather that was forecast on the North Shore.
That storm never did materialize. But lightning struck twice – and in the same place.
Evanston sophomore Jocelyn Leigh scored goals in the 92nd and 98th minutes and lifted the Wildkits to a 2-0 double overtime win over Libertyville Tuesday in Northfield.
Leigh’s scoring outburst sparked the Wildkits to the Final Four for just the second time in program history. Evanston, now 21-2-1 overall, will meet Barrington in the state semifinals at North Central College in Naperville at 5 p.m. Friday.
Barrington eliminated St. Charles East 3-0 at the Barrington Supersectional. Also advancing were Metea Valley, a 2-0 winner over Edwardsville, and Lincoln-Way Central, which edged Glenbard West 2-1.
Libertyville, which lost to the Kits 3-2 during the regular season, put up a stiff fight and kept Evanston off the scoreboard until Leigh and her teammates found a second wind and wore the losers down on a hot and humid night.
Evanston coach Stacy Salgado’s message to her team before the start of the second OT? Dig deeper than you have all season – and that’s just what Leigh did.
“The weather was obviously a challenge, and I don’t do well in the heat,” Leigh confessed. “I just got so much motivation from my teammates. They pushed me to keep going. We all just had to keep pushing to make it to state. It means so much to us, and it took everything the whole team had. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Evanston’s Brealyn Viamille set up Leigh for a scoring run down the right side and the sophomore striker blasted a shot past Libertyville goalkeeper Kate Hopma with eight minutes, 17 seconds left. Six minutes later, Leigh tacked on an insurance goal from the same spot on the artificial turf and Evanston moved one step closer to matching the state championship last won by ETHS back in 2002.
Leigh has led Evanston in scoring all season. She was denied what would have been the go-ahead goal midway through the first half and the Wildkits lost the momentum they seemed to be building with a 15 mile-per-hour wind at their backs.
Keeper Hopma drifted out to the 15-yard line and collided with teammate Erin Kelly in pursuit of a 50-50 ball in the air. The pair banged heads and collapsed to the ground, leaving a wide open path to the empty net for Leigh.
But to the dismay of the Evanston bench, the referee whistled the play dead. Kelly left the game briefly but later returned to the contest.
“That might have been the easiest goal I’ve ever scored,” Leigh said. “But I had a feeling it probably wasn’t going to count. I heard the whistle right before I took the shot.”
“Losing that first goal was unfortunate. It was hard for me to see. But I understand the referee not wanting to mess with a head injury,” Salgado said. “When you put yourself in a good [scoring] situation like that, you don’t want to see it taken back. Libertyville’s a good team and their defense didn’t make it easy for us tonight.
“Jocelyn dug deep in the overtime even though they were all physically so tired. She took her opportunities and she finished big for us.
“We’re planning to go hard again this weekend. We’ve gotten this far – we might as well go all the way.”
Junior goalie Ariel Kite contributed nine saves for the winners, most of them coming in the second half. Her one-hop stop against Libertyville’s Jenna Krakowski shortly after Leigh’s first tally represented the last real threat by the Wildcats, who finished 18-4-2.
Evanston’s exhausted defense pitched a shutout for the full 100 minutes. Senior Shea Ackman, replacing injured starter Sarah Sollinger (broken collarbone in the sectional finals), and back line teammates Carly Menocal and Ellie Oif never left the field while grinding out another victory.
Ackman’s energy gave the Kits a boost midway through the first overtime period when she broke up a potential scoring play, and the exhausted but exhilarated senior made the most of a rare start Tuesday.
Salgado said Ackman would likely be a starter for most of the other teams in the Central Suburban League. “There’s no doubt, that’s 100% true,” said the ETHS coach. “Shea won our team effort award this year because, day in and day out, she works her tail off. Whatever you ask of her, she’s always ready to go.
“Shea’s not entirely new because she has been in the rotation for us all year. Her speed is great, she’s aggressive, and I thought the defense played well off each other tonight.”
Still, the extended minutes in the heat took a toll on Ackman.
“I felt like I was suffocating out there, but my teammates kept telling me to keep pushing, keep going,” she said. “I started some games at the beginning of the year because of injuries to some of the other girls, but it’s been awhile.
“This is a big moment for me, I’m so happy. We had to play a lot more defense than we usually do – this was our longest game of the season – but we pushed through.
“Omigosh, this is so amazing! I’ve never been happier!”