Notre Dame girls soccer captures second straight district title with 2-0 win over St. Pius X
With a district title on the line, the Notre Dame girls soccer team relied on the things it knows best -- Megan Heisserer's ability to put the ball in the net and a defense that rarely lets opponents do the same.
Heisserer scored one goal in each half to notch a brace for the Bulldogs, whose rock-steady back line didn't budge in a 2-0 victory over St. Pius X to claim a second straight Class 2 District 1 championship on Tuesday night at Harry L. Crisp Field at Notre Dame Regional High School.
For Notre Dame (19-1) it was the 12th shutout of the season. The Bulldogs have played 10 games in the last month and allowed just two goals.
The hosts out-shot the Lancers 14-6, with only one of St. Pius' shots going on frame.
"Pius, they really played hard today," Notre Dame coach Ryan Schweain said. "They stretched us length-wise and challenged every 50/50 (ball). At times we weren't playing fast enough. They really put a lot of pressure on us. They brought a lot of pace, and that was a big factor, for sure."
But the reality was that the Lancers (11-9) rarely truly threatened, as a handful of half-chances mostly caused momentary breath-holding, after which Notre Dame was able to exhale every time.
And as the game went on, Notre Dame tightened its grip.
The Bulldogs generally had the better of the play in the first half, but defensive pressure from St. Pius did enough to disrupt things and keep the ball stuck mostly in the midfield.
But in the 23rd minute Notre Dame midfielder Shelby Bauwens got her head up in the center of the field and lifted a ball to the far post, where Kristen Tarno made a run and chested the ball into the 6-yard box. That's where Heisserer found it and pushed it over the goal line for a 1-0 lead.
"We've been talking to Bauwens, (Zoe) Pleimann and (Blake) Sparkman -- our three center mids -- about changing the point of attack," Schweain said. "Instead of just playing the straight ball through, to try to change and play that diagonal ball. That's exactly how that first goal came about. Diagonal ball to Tarno on the backside and Heisserer ended up knocking it in."
That, though, was Notre Dame's best opportunity of the first 40 minutes and its only shot on frame in that time.
Halftime adjustments changed that, allowing the Bulldogs to get off 10 second-half shots, force three saves from St. Pius goalkeeper Rebecca Hovatter and ice the game with a second goal and heavy possession.
The biggest change saw forward Lauren Boswell drop deeper into the midfield to provide an outlet in front of the Lancers' back line, and that hold-up play allowed Notre Dame to control the proceedings and generate more dangerous chances in the attack.
"Their backs were really dropping fast and our forwards were pushing up with them, so we were really needing to have a player holding that (space) in between our mids and their backs," Schweain said. "[Boswell] did that much better in the second half. We were able to get that ball in the space and then look to the sides, which we weren't doing the first half. I think that was the difference.
"That was one of the main points at halftime, trying to change that. Their backs would drop back, pick it off and then they were coming right back at us in transition. We had to try to put a stop to that."
The move paid off in the 48th minute, when Pleimann slid a through ball behind the defense and Heisserer turned off the center back's shoulder and ran in unharrassed to slot the ball inside the far post for a 2-0 lead.
Notre Dame had another golden opportunity in the 64th minute, with Tarno sending the ball in from the left corner to Boswell, who rounded the fallen goalkeeper but sent her shot wide right.
Moments later Heisserer put a shot past Hovatter that trickled toward the post, but got stuck there at the goal line, allowing the keeper to get back and smother the loose ball.
But the Bulldogs' defense was more than enough to allow a two-goal advantage hold up.
"Abby Wilson had a fantastic game today. She bailed us out quite a few times," Schweain said. "Alaina Baumgart and Courtney Schlosser and Julia Williams ... they really played phenomenal today. Pius had a couple girls coming out of the midfield -- their skill players -- that we really had to watch, and their forwards are fast. So I thought the defense played great."
The Lancers' best opportunity of the first half came in the final two minutes, when Katie Mathis stepped in front of a square pass across the top of Notre Dame's 18-yard box, intercepted the ball and had no one in front of her except the goal and Bulldogs keeper Abby Rollet. But Mathis' shot went wide.
St. Pius again had a dangerous opportunity in the waning seconds of the game, with Kacey Flanagan blasting a rising shot at goal that Rollet had to tip just over the crossbar.
Otherwise, the visitors mostly sent hopeful looks over the end line or into a Notre Dame defender. Two of their six shots came on free kicks from about 35 yards out, both going wide of goal.
Notre Dame now awaits the District 2 winner, which will be determined today. It may set up a rematch with Notre Dame (St. Louis) from last year's sectional, which the Bulldogs lost 3-2.
"Really, once we started postseason, this has been taking one game at a time," Schweain said. "We don't want to overlook anybody. We don't want to look at records. A lot of teams that we'll play, whoever it is ... they play a tough schedule, so we can't look at their record. They play a lot of Class 3, Class 4 schools. Last year I kind of felt that some of the players looked at St. Louis Notre Dame's record, and they didn't have a great record. But they played a tough schedule. I felt like last year we kind of went in with expectations that changed during the course of that game."
This time, regardless of the opponent, the game will be played in Cape Girardeau.
"That's huge," Schweain said. "Home field advantage. Hopefully we get a large crowd. These girls are comfortable out here. I think we have a fantastic field, I think one of the best in the state. I know the girls are extremely excited, and we get to stay at home."
- Photos from the game (05/17/17)