SPRINGFIELD — Marquette Catholic head coach Steve Mitchell stressed the importance of starting with energy against the Rochester Rockets when he found out his Explorers would play them after Friday's 2-1 win over Gibault in the sectional finals. Unfortunately that didn't happen.
The Rockets scored in the second minute of Tuesday's Class 1A Springfield Super Sectional at Illinois-Springfield and went on to win 2-1. Marquette ends its season at 15-6-3, while Rochester improves to 23-3-0 and earns a berth in the 1A state tournament at North Central College in Naperville beginning at 5 p.m. Friday. The Rockets face Champaign St. Thomas More, which beat Manteno 1-0 in the Romeo Super Sectional on Tuesday.
“It's a broken record,” Mitchell said of the Explorers' slow start. “Write what you want, say what you want, but the bottom line is you cannot get in a hole against a good team. We just can't do it and once again we got in a hole and couldn't get out of it. It is what it is. Sometimes they just don't listen to me. I don't know what it is.”
It was Rochester's Ally Milnes that did the damage in the second minute. She took a pass from teammate Becca Jostes, worked around the Marquette defense and blistered a goal in from right outside the box.
“We expected them to really come out hard,” Rockets' head coach Chad Kutscher said. “We talked about beating their level of intensity to start the game, putting them down early is really what we were trying to do. That's either feast or famine. If you expend that much energy at the beginning of the game and you don't come up with anything, you're in trouble and luckily we got something early and I thought that really set the tone.”
Marquette got some chances offensively early, but just weren't very crisp. Mitchell believed they could have finished better.
“We missed a breakaway, Annabelle (Copeland) has another shot from 10-15 yards out in the box and shanks it over,” Mitchell said. “(Kate) Sanfilippo had a pretty good shot and missed it over the top. We had one off the goalie's gloves in the six-yard box. You have to put those type of balls in the net or you're going to lose against a team like this. We had our chances.”
Rochester really changed the dynamic of the game in the 24th minute though. Earning a free kick, the Rockets instituted some trickery, moving girls around before Milnes faked a shot and then fired one into the lower left corner to give Rochester a commanding 2-0 lead.
“It's something my assistant coach Brent Stuckey saw somewhere and he wanted to put it in a couple years ago,” Kutscher said. “We actually used it last year against QND (Quincy Notre Dame). We didn't score off of it, but it was close. It was a crossbar shot.
“It's a trick play and something you've got to work on the training grounds, but once every 500 times it presents itself.”
It wasn't Mitchell's cup of tea, but he admitted some coaches like to use deception to their advantage and the rules allow it.
“That's part of the IHSA's fault, because that trickery to me is garbage,” Mitchell said. “Some of these rules are getting out of control. It's called trickery in my book, but he's claiming you can fake and step over the ball and if you move it's encroachment. Coaches come up with all these trickery plays were players are flying all over, but we just weren't ready for it. The wall wasn't set up properly. The ball never got over two feet in the air, it wasn't a corner, so something wasn't set up right to beat my keeper to the wall side.
“Props to them. They wanted it and it's heart and hustle. I say that all year long and at this point of the game when you're this deep the teams are pretty evenly matched, so it's heart and it's hustle.”
Marquette did make a valiant attempt to come back in the second half by applying more pressure on the Rockets.
In the 48th minute sophomore Annabelle Copeland finally put the Explorers on the board when she dribbled around a defender and scored on a nifty shot into the left corner of the goal. It was an unassisted play.
“When (Copeland) and Kate try to do what we ask them to do it's incredible, but there were a couple of players that just didn't play up to their potential today and that hurts,” Mitchell said. “It is what it is, this field is extremely short, it's thick, it slowed the game down. We got used to the turf and were practicing on turf and then we get thrown out here... Not only is it only 70 yards wide, but it's extremely thick and they're a physical team and we're playing right in their back yard. This is the kind of soccer they want to play.”
Kutscher gave credit to Marquette for picking up its play in the second half.
“Marquette started to take the game back over and I thought you saw them for a little while there they really owned it and were putting us under a lot of pressure,” Kutscher said. “They had a lot of looks in the second half and it was just a good back and forth game, a good girls' soccer game and it was fun to be a part of.”
Unfortunately for the Explorers it's the second straight season Rochester has concluded their season. Last year it happened in the final seconds of the second overtime. This time it was decided in the early minutes.
“I thought as a coach and an ex-player that four seconds on the clock from last year would have been on my mind,” Mitchell said. “I would have played my rear off. I would have played all game until I couldn't play anymore, but the first 20 they just weren't ready and it came back to haunt us.”
Rochester outshot Marquette 16-8 and won the corners 5-3. Explorers' goalie Lauren Fischer had seven saves, while Maddie Gleeson of the Rockets corralled four saves in the win.
Marquette says goodbye to three seniors in Sanfilippo, who will play at Northern Illinois next year, Kali Segieda and Nicole Grimaud.