St. Vincent girls soccer gets over hump, ends Saxony Lutheran's district reign
As the final seconds wore down, the St. Vincent girls soccer team linked arms on the sideline and anxiously eyed the clock. Who could blame the Indians? They'd been waiting for this moment for years.
When the final horn sounded, St. Vincent enjoyed every moment of it, celebrating a 4-0 win over rival Saxony Lutheran in the Class 1 District 1 championship Friday at Notre Dame Regional High School.
After failing each of the two previous years, the top-seeded Indians were finally able to get past the third-seeded Crusaders in the district final, surviving a close first 30 minutes before dominating the two-time reigning state champions in the second half.
The program's last district title came in 2011; it finished as Class 1 runner-up that year.
"It's just overwhelming," St. Vincent senior captain Faith Kapp said. "All the hard work you put into it, it pays off. These girls have been working so hard. It doesn't even sink in yet. We can't even feel all the emotions yet because we're all just so happy."
In her final opportunity to defeat Saxony Lutheran (10-11) when it mattered, Kapp had a goal and an assist as four different Indians found the back of the net. St. Vincent (17-5-1) also got goals from Abby Buchheit, Corin Carroll and Kalli Seabaugh, with Jenna Winkler picking up an assist.
The final score matched that of a regular-season meeting between the two sides back on April 24, but Friday's proceedings were much different.
Rather than chase the game from the opening kick again, the Crusaders got numbers in the midfield and went toe-to-toe with the Indians in the first half, often controlling the game for the first 30 minutes or so.
It didn't last, though.
"We had everybody healthy and played with a fire that we didn't have in the first [meeting] of the season," Saxony Lutheran coach Chris Crawford said. "That made a big difference in the first half and I think we ran out of gas a little bit there in the second half.
"I'm proud of the way we played. We could have folded a bunch of different times this year. To [do that with] a team where you have everyone coming back, that's a positive."
The game changed late in the first half, as St. Vincent began to play with more possession and then got the all-important first goal in the 33rd minute.
Kapp found space between the Crusaders' midfield and back line and was able to run toward goal, pick her head up and spot Buchheit on the right wing. And when the right-sided player got it, she struck a perfect, soaring shot from about 25 yards over outstretched Saxony Lutheran goalkeeper Ashley Fritsche and into the far side of the goal.
"We were able to switch fields real fast so I was like, 'OK, I've got a little bit of time. I have to find my outside or my forward,'" Kapp said. "Abby had so much space I was like, 'I'm going to give it to her. She's got it.' I gave it to her and she hit a beautiful shot -- one of the most beautiful goals I've seen.
"She never fails to amaze me. She's got a great foot. That one was the icebreaker. It's the one we needed to get right away and that's what helped us keep building on."
Although Saxony often traded looks at goal with the Indians in the first half, it never got another quality chance the rest of the way.
"I think Kapp drove through the middle and somebody stepped to her and left the outside open," Crawford said. "It was a good shot. Ashley's not going to be able to stop that. Nobody's going to be able to stop that. It was a defensive breakdown but it was one of the few we really had in the first half and they capitalized. That's what championship teams do. Hat's off to St. Vincent, they played a heck of a game today."
If the opening goal grabbed momentum, the next one sealed it. In the 42nd minute -- just a minute and a half into the second half -- Seabaugh got into the 18-yard box and sent a shot toward goal that was blocked and left careening toward the middle of the field. That's where a trailing run from Kapp let her step into a shot that bent the back of the net, gave St. Vincent a 2-0 lead and all but put a dagger into the Crusaders.
"That was huge," St. Vincent coach Caitlin Pistorio said. "You probably heard me yell, 'First five.' That's kind of been our slogan here. That goes for the first five minutes of the game, the first five minutes of the half; the first five minutes after any team scores is your weakest time, and you've just got to make sure you take advantage of your opponent's weakness. That's what we did the first five minutes of the second half, and I think it kind of boosted our self esteem and I think it kind of -- I don't want to speak for them, but in some ways I think it set the tone and pushed things our way."
The initial attack from Seabaugh came where regular Crusaders starter Cassidee Wunderlich would have been, had she not been helped off the field late in the first half due to what appeared to be dehydration in hot, sticky conditions. Wunderlich returned later in the second half, but not until after St. Vincent had a 2-0 lead.
"We had to make a little bit of a shift with Cass going down so we had some people playing spots they don't necessarily play a lot. But that's not an excuse," Crawford said. "We just didn't have it for the first five minutes of the half. It's a critical five. They score and it takes you down. ... We played good for 40 minutes and played pretty good for the last 40, but you don't beat a good team by playing pretty good."
After being out-shot only 8-5 in the first half, Saxony Lutheran managed just two shots in the final 40 minutes, with neither a true threat.
St. Vincent won the final shot tally 19-7.
The second-half stranglehold was a product of the Indians' ability to win the ball in the center of the park and quickly get it out wide. By stretching from touchline to touchline, St. Vincent was able to utilize its possession to generate numerous opportunities.
"We noticed that all of our best opportunities in the first half came when we'd send the ball down low on the outside line and then crossing it over," Pistorio said. "We had some beautiful through balls, especially to Abby Buchheit out there, so that was kind of our note we had on offense for the second half and we executed beautifully."
Any question about the final result was iced in the 58th minute, when a failed clearing attempt in the box by a Crusaders defender ricocheted off her hand and was whistled down for an Indians penalty kick. Carroll then stepped to the spot and froze Fritsche on her line, banging her attempt into the top right portion of the goal for a definitive 3-0 lead.
The punctuation came in the 69th minute when Winkler sent a corner kick to the far post, where Seabaugh easily took the ball out of the air and over the goal line.
"We knew it was going to be a different game than regular season because we saw them on Wednesday play Kelly and they were a very different program than what we saw in the regular season," Pistorio said. "We knew we had to be patient on defense. Just stay in between Laurel Mueller and the goal, little (Emma) Brune and the goal, and that would be our best opportunity defensively. Then, offensively, we knew we could score against them. We did it before. It was just a matter of getting that first one in, building that confidence. We figured it would kind of go from there, and it did."
St. Vincent had the first quality chance of the night in the ninth minute, when Carroll shot from the right and forced Fritsche to make a diving stop to her right. The rebound came to the trailing run of Kaiti Schnurbusch, whose follow-up attempt went wide.
Fritsche made seven saves in the game.
Saxony created danger in the 21st minute, when Makayla Mueller sent speedy forward Briann Jenkins through alone, but Indians keeper Courtney Brewer (three saves) charged off her line to smother the ball.
The Crusaders' best opportunity of the game came in the 26th minute, when Olivia Spanley battled through a pair of center backs about 15 yards out from goal before having her shot deflected just wide right.
Saxony Lutheran never had a better chance, and six minutes later it conceded and chased the rest of the game.
The result marks the first time in three years that the Crusaders had to watch another team celebrate, but Crawford chalked the season up as a success after having to integrate more than a dozen new faces into the mix. This is the fifth district championship appearance in the seven years of the program's existence. And the squad won't graduate a single player.
" ...We have a standard set to be here and we want to continue that," Crawford said.
"We talked to the ones who won state with us last year. That's special. That's not something everybody gets as a freshman and sophomore. They understood that, but at the same time I think they didn't think we'd ever lose, and we learned that we can be beaten when we don't show up with our effort. ... We've talked in our huddle that everyone is coming back and this summer we're going to get bigger, we're going to get faster, we're going to get stronger. We're going to work on some technical things and hopefully that will carry over into next year and we can build on this year."
Meanwhile, this is uncharted territory for the Indians, none of whom have made it this far before.
St. Vincent will now face Maplewood-Richmond Heights (14-9-1) in a state quarterfinal at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Pius X.
"We try to emphasize the fact it's just another soccer game," Pistorio said. "It's no different. It's just like any other game. Nothing's different on the field. You've got to stop thinking about the pressure and just play it like any other game. As long as they keep doing that and don't get caught up in whatever hype there might be, that's gonna be the goal from here on."
- Photos from the game (05/19/17)