SPRINGFIELD — The Marquette Catholic Explorers may be getting sick of penalty kicks, but the results never seem to get old.
Marquette defeated Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 1-0 after three rounds of PKs on Tuesday at the Class 1A University of Illinois Springfield Super-Sectional. The win punched the Explorers' ticket back to the 1A state tournament for the first time since 2013. They finished third that season, head coach Steve Mitchell's first at the helm.
This was the third consecutive game Marquette has had to go to PKs to determine a winner.
The Explorers improved to 14-9-3 with the win, while SHG concludes its season at 17-4-1.
“Winning never gets tiring,” Mitchell said with a giant grin. “But you never want to end a game like that. I'm like any other coach, you don't want to go to PKs, you want to settle it on the field but you've got to have a winner and a loser and that game could have gone on for another hour. It is what it is, we've been here before and I was thinking we'd be OK.”
But when the first round of PKs ended, the Explorers and Cyclones were knotted at 4-4 on the kicks. It was par for the course after battling through 100 minutes of scoreless soccer.
The second round of PKs become sudden death and the two squads made five each to force round No. 3, which was where it was decided.
SHG's Catie Costa's shot was no good, stopped by a diving Lauren Fischer in goal. Marquette sophomore Lauren Walsh then put the finishing touches on the win, scoring her sudden death goal and the melee ensued on the field as the Explorers knew they were headed to state.
Fischer had never endured sudden death PKs, although she'd stood on her head in PK wins over Gibault and Columbia in the 1A Althoff Sectional.
“That was a ton (of pressure),” Fischer said. “I've never been to sudden death kicks in my life and that was so much more pressure. I don't want to go back there again, but I just wanted to do it for my team.”
Fischer admitted she's a little more comfortable taking PKs after the last two wins, but one can never get too comfortable.
“I feel more comfortable, but you just never know with penalty kicks,” she said. “It could go either way any time and it just keeps going my way, but it's a mind game and it's 50/50 on all of them. I won't say I get more comfortable, but it just keeps happening.”
With the way Fischer has performed in goal during PKs, Walsh felt good taking her shot though. The pressure was off because she believed her sophomore goalie had her back as well as the rest of the team.
“It was a little bit of pressure, but I knew our keeper had our backs,” Walsh said.
Another 100 minutes of soccer for the Explorers means 300 minutes they've played through sectionals and supers. Mitchell hopes that Marquette can finish better at state. He thought there were chances on Tuesday, but his team just couldn't find the back of the net.
He credited some of that frustration to a talented SHG squad.
“We played 100 minutes and 80 to 85 minutes I thought we were in there and we just couldn't put the ball in the net,” Mitchell said. “But we've been tested, we've been here before and the kids kept battling and somebody has to win and lose like we've been saying the last two times. We're on top again and I can't say enough about these kids. And Sacred Heart-Griffin, what a team and what an effort. You've got to tip your hat off to them. This is a great win.”
Now they turn their attention to the state tournament at Naperville's North Central College. The Explorers face West Chicago (Wheaton Academy) at 5 p.m. Friday. The other semifinal pits Williamsville vs. Woodstock (Marian) at 7 p.m. Friday. The third-place match is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, while the state championship game is set for 5 p.m.
“I expect us first to take a day off and enjoy it,” Mitchell said with a chuckle. “Then we're going to load the bus, go through some stuff and head up north and see what happens.”