NEW LENOX – Lincoln-Way West’s girls soccer team spent the final 30 minutes Saturday relentlessly hammering away at Lincoln-Way East’s defense. And after an up-and-down stint through the first 50 minutes, the Warriors raised their intensity down the stretch and finally kicked the door down with 16 seconds left in regulation for a 3-2 win over the rival Griffins.
Though West came out firing and picked up a go-ahead goal on a left-footed screamer from Anna Kirk to secure the early momentum and go up 1-0, senior captain Sara Loichinger and the Warriors hit a bit of a lull in the minutes flanking either side of the intermission.
East knotted things up in the waning portion of the first half by executing on some set pieces to establish some pressure, then ultimately taking advantage of a penalty kick. The Griffins continued their surge as the second half got underway and took their first lead of the match in the 50th minute on a goal by Amber Brooks.
West had applied sustained offensive pressure throughout the early contest, but East took full advantage of the opportunities it was presented to establish its narrow lead. The back line weathered the Warriors’ offensive storm admirably, but West finally broke through and tied things back up at two when Loichinger found the back of the goal in the 66th minute.
From that point, the possession was scarce for the Griffins, but it looked as though their back line would hold on long enough to force overtime. In this case, looks proved to be deceiving.
During another protracted assault in front of the keeper, the Warriors’ persistence paid off again. In a frantic scrum on the left side of the box, Loichinger took one final attempt to make things happen, passed the ball into a mob that allowed senior Megan Shelton to send a strike toward the net that ricocheted off the leg of a Griffins’ defender and locked down a come-from-behind win with 16 seconds left.
“There was kind of a lot going on.” Shelton said of her dramatic game-winner. “I knew we weren’t going to have many more chances, so I stepped toward the goal and deflected it off a girl’s foot and into goal.”
It was an excellent, heads-up play when the pressure was on – both on Shelton’s part and that of Loichinger as she expertly facilitated the win with a clutch pass that found its way through despite East’s superior numbers within the fray.
“We got the ball thrown in and I saw their back line was pushing up, so I thought if I turned and dribbled to the end line, I’d be able to throw it into the mix, Loichinger said. “We’d had a lot of chances inside that were really close and I just passed it in there again, it hit off a few legs and went in.”
A schematic adjustment in the second half was key for the Warriors as they deployed a more front-heavy alignment.
“We switched to three forwards and that definitely picked things up,” Shelton said. “That definitely picked things up and made their defense stretch out more and force them to give us more of a cushion and make their pressure less high.”
With Loichinger pushed up as a third forward instead of her normal midfielder spot, the Warriors finally wore down the Griffins’ defense in the nick of time.
The victory over its SouthWest Suburban Conference rivals boosted Lincoln-Way West’s SWSC standing to 4-1-1 and its overall record to 9-6-2 with two games remaining before the postseason. The Warriors will close things out with two tough conference matchups, with the first being at home against Bradley-Bourbonnais on Tuesday and the second one on the road against Sandburg on May 7.
Meanwhile, East’s remaining schedule is more robust, with six games remaining before regional play. The Griffins will take their 7-5-1 record into Tuesday’s matchup with Sandburg in Frankfort.