Sophomore Molly Suess felt the pressure Friday, but she didn’t succumb to it.
Suess hit the deciding penalty kick to lift the Triad Knights to a 1-0 victory over Chatham Glenwood in the championship game of the Class 2A Chatham Glenwood Sectional.
The penalty-kicks period was deadlocked at 3 when Suess hit a low shot inside the right post, giving Triad its first sectional title since 2011, when it won the Class 2A state tournament.
“There was a lot (of pressure),” said Suess, a midfielder. “I was standing over on the side, and I knew it was coming. I had to get my mind ready, get my body ready. I had to make sure I was ready to put the ball in the net for the team. It was my duty.”
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The Knights (19-6) will play Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (19-5-1) in the Rochester Super-Sectional at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Cyclones defeated Normal West 3-0 to win the Washington Sectional.
“We’ve been working on (penalty kicks) all year long,” Triad coach Matt Bettlach said. “To be here, we knew this could happen. The girls kept striking the ball well.”
Chatham Glenwood (17-3-1) had defeated Triad in the sectional each of the past four years. It appeared the Titans would make it five when they took a 2-0 lead in penalty kicks.
Senior Maddie Klintworth converted for the Titans, and Triad sophomore Katie Rogers was stopped by senior goalie Jenna Wilson. Junior Kalie Gibbs also converted as Chatham Glenwood appeared extended its lead to two and appeared to be in firm control.
Senior Sam Bassler, however, scored for Triad to make it 2-1 before Knights junior goalie Mercedes King saved a penalty kick by Titans forward Lauryn Martel.
That swung the momentum to the Knights, and senior Meaghan Smith’s shot knotted the penalty-kicks period at 2.
Chatham Glenwood senior Alie Smith and Triad sophomore Rebecca Byrd traded successful kicks, but Titans sophomore Corrine Steiner shot high to give Suess her big chance.
Suess was mobbed after she finished past the diving Wilson.
“Molly did that against Belleville West in the semifinals of the Metro Cup; she knocked in the game-winner,” Bettlach said. “Molly’s just a calm, cool, collected kid. Nothing really rattles her. If it does, you don’t see it, and she showed it there.”
Bettlach called King “a stud.” King not only made a pivotal save in penalty kicks, but also robbed Martel with a leaping save in the 62nd minute.
“I’ve split goalies all year long,” said Bettlach, who also has used senior Madisyn Stauffer. “Mercedes has got that competitive edge, and she really brought that out tonight, coming out and making some sliding, diving saves. She was really good with her hands tonight. She’s so good in the air and keeping the ball in her hands.”
A key play in the game came in the 78th minute when an apparent goal by Martel was disallowed. A Triad player deflected a pass as it went toward Martel. The ball popped up into Martel’s midsection, and the referee called a handball before Martel finished.
“I didn’t think it was a handball,” Chatham Glenwood coach Jay Lipe said. “I didn’t think the players reacted to it as a handball — on either team. But you can’t change it now. And there’s no guarantees, even if we score that goal, that Triad doesn’t get a goal and we play overtime anyway. (But) it does make it tough. Officials are doing the best they can, and he called what he saw. (Martel) said it hit off her stomach and went to her foot.”
Smith almost won the game for Triad in the final six seconds of regulation when her hard shot from 30 yards away clanged off the crossbar. Two 10-minute overtimes followed.
“When I saw here shoot that ball, I’m like, ‘No way,’” Bettlach said. “It just didn’t look (dangerous). Then it hit the crossbar. She’ll hit it from half-field. She doesn’t care. If she’s feeling it, she’ll shoot it. And she has the green light to do that. We don’t hold her back on anything.”