JOLIET — Normal Community High School team leaders Erin Shulman and Liz Drennan weren’t deceived by Lincoln-Way Central’s sub-.500 record going into Tuesday night’s Class 4A Joliet Central Girls Soccer Sectional match.
The undefeated Ironmen had another fear. This one proved to be true.
“What got us was the turf,” said Drennan of Joliet Memorial Stadium’s artificial surface. “They’re used to a turf field. This was the first time playing on turf for us (this season).”
Lincoln-Way Central withstood a barrage of NCHS attempts in the final 15 minutes as the Knights held on for a 3-2 victory that ended the Ironmen’s dream season with a 22-1-2 record.
“They know how the ball bounces (off the turf),” said Shulman, who scored her 84th career goal. “Turf usually gets us. We played only one practice on it at ISU. They play every home game and practice on turf.
“They had a little advantage there. It’s not an excuse. But a turf game is completely different than playing on grass because it’s faster and bouncier.”
Lincoln-Way Central (10-10-5) never trailed and advanced to face Granite City in Friday’s championship match.
NCHS, which trailed 2-1 at halftime, was really in trouble when Lincoln-Way Central freshman Cailyn Harrington lofted a shot from 25 yards out that floated over Ironmen goalkeeper Julie Schultz’s outstretched reach with 31:06 left.
The Ironmen’s Hannah Rodgers hit the crossbar before teammate Parisa Ghasemi blasted in a shot from about 30 yards to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 17:49 left.
Schultz kept NCHS in range when she made a sprawling save off a deflection on a corner kick with 15:07 left.
From that point, NCHS dominated the action as it moved up Shulman from the back row. Caroline Flynn nearly sneaked a shot inside the right post that Becca Patrone turned away with six minutes left.
“I’m so proud how we played in the second half. We played our guts out,” said NCHS coach Matt Chapman. “We couldn’t get some shots to go. They did a great job getting bodies back in front of the goal. We threw everything at them.”
Lincoln-Way Central got on the board quickly at the start. Rachel Post outraced a couple NCHS players down field and drilled a shot from about 10 yards just inside the right corner with only 2:36 gone.
NCHS got that score back midway through the half. After a corner kick, Lincoln-Way Central failed to clear and Shulman boomed in a 20-yard shot inside the right post for her 20th goal of the season.
But Lincoln-Way Central went ahead with 6:25 left in the first half. Somer Druszkowski took a corner kick that Schultz temporarily caught. But Schultz lost the handle and the ball trickled over the goal line.
“When we scored the first goal I was surprised,” said Lincoln-Way Central coach Dan Radz. “At halftime I was concerned they had the wind back.”
The Ironmen had trailed in the second half of their two ties and also trailed in the final 40 minutes before coming back to win.
This time it didn’t happen as NCHS lost in the sectional for the second straight year on a turf field.
“I told the girls soccer is a cruel sport sometimes,” said Chapman. “That’s not to take anything away from Lincoln-Way Central because they played a great game and deserved it. So hats off to them for finishing their chances.”