The Triad Knights battled anxiety Friday afternoon as they waited for the first semifinal of the Class 2A girls state soccer tournament to be completed.
It hardly showed as the Knights, taking the field one hour later than scheduled, got an unassisted goal from senior Erynn Little less than six minutes into the game and made it hold up in a 1-0 win over Burlington Central at North Central College.
“Our objective was to move the ball around like we usually do,” Little said. “Also, when we were in that (pregame) huddle, we wanted to score first to keep the pressure up.
“(The goal) came from the wing. We’re really good at playing from the wings. I think it popped out. We played it in, it popped out and I got it. They were a really good team. Our defense is really strong. It has been all year, and we take pride in that.”
Triad (21-6), shooting for its first state championship since 2011, will oppose Wheaton Academy (21-5) for the title at 1 p.m. Saturday. Wheaton Academy nipped Lemont 1-0 in a game that went two scoreless 10-minute overtimes before the Warriors advanced 7-6 in penalty kicks. Each team had 12 shooters in the PK periods.
Knights coach Matt Bettlach said the tension was thick as his team, already eager to get started, waited restlessly for the Wheaton Academy-Lemont game to conclude.
“It was good that both teams were playing for a long time,” Bettlach said, referencing a conversation he had with longtime assistant coach Jim Jackson. “Boy, that was a physical game. They were bruising each other. But it was bad for us because we had to wait, and the nerves were already there.”
Little settled them. She gained possession of a loose ball on the left side of the box and hit a clean goal inside the left post at 5 minutes, 7 seconds.
“It came down to a bad clearance,” Burlington Central coach Jessica Arneson said. “Usually, we’re a possession team. When you take that away from us, our team looks a lot different. They had some strong midfielders and defenders that we weren’t ready for.”
Triad’s defense, led by senior Morgan Bohnenstiehl, played well against the speed and ball skills of the Rockets (24-3-2). Junior Mercedes King was solid in goal and gained her 17th shutout of the season.
“Playing with a lead for 75 minutes is not what you want to do,” Bettlach said. “With a 1-0 lead, you want to build on it. But I’m just happy with the way our girls played in the back. They’ve been there all year long. Our back line has been our bread and butter. They keep everything in front and challenge and deny when they can.”
King said she “didn’t have to do too much this game.”
“My defensive line stayed strong,” she said. “It wasn’t a very hard game (for me), but I know the other team was a very skillful team. I knew it was going to be a good game. But since my defense is very good, I didn’t really have to do much.”
King said the waiting was the hardest part.
“When the other teams were in the PKs, it was making us girls way more nervous than we were,” she said. “We chilled in the shade and cooled down. Then when they were done, we just got on the field, warmed up and did our thing.”
The Knights expect to be challenged by Wheaton Academy, which is led by senior Gretchen Pearson (29 goals, 12 assists) sophomore Sophia Lundquist (19 goals, 14 assists) and junior Erin Teevans (18 goals, 24 assists). The Warriors won the Class 1A state title last year.
“This is what we wanted,” King said. “It’s right there for us.”