BLOOMINGTON — Even though his Central Catholic High School girls soccer team enjoyed a 1-0 halftime lead on Tuesday, Saints coach Reza Ghasemi was concerned.

"The game, really from a scoring perspective, was in their favor," said Ghasemi of a Class 1A Central Catholic Sectional semifinal against Springfield Lutheran. "We are really an offensive-minded team. We dominated, but couldn't finish."

Lauren Shanks said she was getting frustrated until she bagged her 61st goal of the season with 24:55 left. The Saints exhaled a little bit after that on their way to a hard-fought 2-0 victory at Bill Hundman Memorial Field.

"Keira (Hadley) sent me a really good through ball and I just turned and kicked it," said Shanks of her 25-foot blast that put her fifth on the all-time Illinois High School Association single-season list. "It just went in, finally."

The Saints enjoyed a 27-6 advantage in shots on goal while improving to 16-8-1. Central Catholic meets Rock Island Alleman (10-6-2), which beat Pleasant Plains, 3-1, in Friday's 6:30 p.m. championship match.

It appeared the Saints might get quite a few goals early. Sophomore Johanna Schwemer beat Crusaders goalie MiKayla Stroup off an assist by Hadley less than three minutes into the match for a 1-0 lead. 

"I was pretty happy we scored the first couple minutes," said Schwemer. "It made everything a little bit easier."

Easier maybe, but Central Catholic couldn't convert on several good scoring opportunities the rest of the half. Springfield Lutheran nearly forged a tie late, but Julie Elmore's shot to the left of Saints goalie Kylee Hadley went just wide with 1:55 left. 

"We knew we were getting the shots, but we just needed to finish," said Shanks.

Hadley made her best save of the match when she corralled a hard blast by Elmore with 27:25 left. 

Shortly thereafter, Shanks got some room to operate from the top of the box and drilled a left-footed shot past Stroup.

"I knew in the second half we were going to be doing the same thing (as the first half) because we're really well conditioned and so we can run the 80 minutes with minimal subs," said Ghasemi. "We played them in the regular season and beat them 3-1... obviously they knew us. They worked physically and tried to cover Lauren and overall did a good job."

This was the first-ever sectional appearance for Springfield Lutheran (15-7).

"We got off to a little slow start. We battled and played great defense," said Crusaders coach David Isham. "I thought we came with lot of momentum the last seven minutes of the first half and we tried to carry that into the second half.

"We just couldn't find that goal which could have sparked and changed the complexion of the game."

Central Catholic has never won a sectional title. Shanks has a good idea what it will take to get over that hurdle.

"Friday we need to keep up good passing and focus on finishing more in the final third (of the field)," she said. 

Photos: Central Catholic Class 1A sectional semifinal victory over Springfield Lutheran

Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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