ROCKFORD — Rockford Christian struck first in Friday’s Class 1A sectional championship against Princeton.
However, the Tigers tied it by halftime.
Early in the second half, Princeton was whistled for a handball in the box, and the Royal Lions capitalized with a penalty kick goal.
Just 11 seconds later, the Tigers tied it.
Every time Rockford Christian scored and threatened to take momentum, Princeton had an answer.
The result was a 4-3 win as the Tigers claimed their first sectional crown since 2012.
“We have some character,” PHS coach David Gray said. “There have been some games we’ve been down and we’ve been able to keep fighting and come back this year. I reminded them of that before we started because I didn’t want us to go down a goal and fold, and we didn’t. The girls kept fighting. I couldn’t be prouder of the team.”
The sectional title is the fourth in program history.
“It means a lot,” Gray said. “Everybody has been through a lot this year. We talked about how this tournament run is our reward for all the stuff we put up with for the last year — COVID, the masks, isolation, not getting a season last year. All that has been building up over a year and we get to release it now. It’s been an awesome ride and I hope we keep going.”
The Tigers (11-4) advance to play Wheaton Academy (17-4) at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Class 1A Mendota Super-Sectional.
“It feels amazing (to win a sectional), said Viviana Robledo, who drew “MVP” chants from the crowd after the game as she scored two goals. “It feels awesome being part of this. I’m a junior and we’re all doing it for the seniors for their last year.
“We have to work really well together (on Monday). Hopefully, we can win.”
The Warriors advanced with a 2-0 victory over Lisle on Friday.
“I expect it to be pretty tough,” Gray said. “You get to the super-sectional level and you’re talking eight teams left in the state. We’re going to have to play our best game. But I’m going to let the girls enjoy this tonight and we’ll talk about it Sunday.”
Gray said Friday’s win wasn’t the team’s “cleanest or best soccer,” but he commended the team’s hard work and energy.
After Rockford Christian scored in the seventh minute on a goal by Jada Harvey, the Tigers managed to tie it with 14:01 left in the first half when Mariah Hobson scored on an assist from Savanna Birkey.
“We struggled to adjust to how they set up,” Gray said. “I don’t think we’ve seen a team set up so deep. They did a really good job taking Mariah out of the game for the most part. Mariah still made a huge impact, obviously, with scoring a goal and her possession. We’re used to being able to find Mariah more easily and we had to get a little more creative and had to fight.
“We sunk one of our forwards in almost as an advanced center mid and tried to link that space because we had Mariah trying to push high and push their back line. When we were pressing them, we were doing a good job making things happen.”
Harvey scored again on a penalty kick when the Tigers were whistled for a handball in the box, but just 11 seconds later Robledo found the back of the net.
Robledo gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead with 19:32 left when she blasted in a shot from about 10 yards outside the box.
“I thought Vivianna was awesome,” Gray said. “The goals are one thing, but I thought she did a really good job for the most part limiting the damage (Harvey) did.”
The Royal Lions knotted the game up again when Molly Henderson scored on a rebound after Princeton goalkeeper Mya Gartin stopped two close range shots from Harvey.
However, the Tigers had one more answer in them.
With 9:51 left, Birkey scored on an assist from Victoria Segerstrom to give PHS the win.
“We knew we had to work together and we knew we had to step up our game a little more,” Robledo said about Princeton’s ability to answer. “We got nervous (when they’d take the lead), but we knew not to give up.”