NORMAL -- You know a high school girls soccer coach has a lot of weapons when he can afford to move a forward with 82 career goals to defense.
That is what Normal Community's Matt Chapman did with two-time Intercity Player of the Year Erin Shulman to great effect in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the host school in the Normal Community West Class 3A Regional semifinals.
While Shulman shut down threats in the back before they became dangerous, Holly Gregory was creating havoc up front with two goals and an assist.
"We have other scorers and other offensive players that have done awesome for us this year," Chapman said. "So we don't have to rely on (Shulman) to score. If we need to change and move her back up, we can.
"We've been thinking for awhile that going into the postseason, we are going to have to bolster our defense."
The outcome lifted the Ironmen to 21-0-2 while Normal West fell to 8-10-5. West's earlier losses to NCHS were by scores of 3-0 and 5-2.
The top-seeded Ironmen will play for their third consecutive regional title and fifth since 2005 at 11 a.m. Saturday against No. 2 Pekin (18-3-1). Pekin, a 4-0 winner over Bradley-Bourbonnais Wednesday, lost to NCHS, 2-1, on March 19.
"It's different, but it gives our defense more structure," said Gregory of having Shulman on defense. "It's good having her back there. Plus I can always count on our midfielders and (Alison) Seger to help me."
Seger opened the scoring by redirecting the rebound of Gregory's shot off West goalie Brittany Roane 10:02 into the game.
Gregory made it 2-0 with 2:04 left in the half after being put into a one-on-one situation with the goalie thanks to Caroline Flynn's assist.
Gregory made another run with 8:10 left for an unassisted goal, her team-leading 19th of the season.
"On both of them, I was holding my breath right up until the end when I scored," Gregory said.
Normal West refused to concede as the rebound of Ashley Zobrist's free kick from 35 yards out was put back in the net by Madisen Theobald with 3:10 remaining.
"The last goal we scored epitomized our season," said Wildcat coach Val Walker applauding his team's never-say-die attitude.
"We fight to the very end. That is the personality of our team. We've improved so much in all aspects of the game. I have nothing but good memories of our accomplishments this year."
Walker's only regret was that he didn't have his Big 12 Conference third-placers attack earlier Wednesday.
"We were playing way too defensive and gave up way too much space to them," he said. "As a coach, sometimes you kind of second guess your tactics. The second half we were a little bit more attacking."