Losing twice to St. Charles North in the regular season was in the Saints’ rearview mirror.
“Everyone worked so hard today,” Saints star junior Grace Williams said amid the flurry of celebratory pictures after East’s 3-1 victory in the Class 3A St. Charles East Sectional final May 27. “Everyone wanted to win today. The mentality was great. This is probably the best we’ve played all year. It was amazing. It was so fun to be a part of.”
Falling a third time to North – in a rematch of last year’s sectional final, no less – wasn’t an option.
“I felt like in the first two games we didn’t really play to our potential,” Saints coach Vince DiNuzzo said. “I’m not sure we did today, either, but we did enough to get the result, which is important. Everyone wants to win in the playoffs.”
The Saints surrendered a goal to St. Charles North standout Bella Najera in the first few minutes of the contest, but settled down to get an equalizer from Ella Stehman on a header following a cross to midfield with 16:36 left in the first half.
“I think it was a confidence thing of the moment almost overwhelming them. We saw that in the first two minutes in this one,” DiNuzzo said. “But after that, we were able to settle in and play our brand of soccer and limit some opportunities for some key players that they have. [North is] a good team, well-coached, so it’s an accomplishment to get to this point.”
Williams found the perfect moment for her go-ahead score 37 seconds out of the break.
“Ella went to shoot the ball and I saw that it was going to be deflected off the defender, so I stuck my leg out really luckily and tried to get as much on it as I could,” Williams said.
Stehman came through with her second goal in a flurry of traffic on a corner kick to give the Saints the insurance goal they needed.
“I was so happy because I know it’s what our team deserves,” Stehman said. “We worked so hard this entire year with morning practices and all of our fitness, it just was all leading up to this. I’m really happy that we finally beat them.”
St. Charles East (20-4-2) moves on to a rematch with Barrington in Tuesday’s 6 p.m. supersectional at Barrington. The Saints lost to Barrington 1-0 in last season’s supersectional.
St. Charles North (19-3) graduates eight off a team that won its 19th consecutive regional title.
“I just thought St. Charles East came out with a ton of energy [in the second half]. They played fantastic. Both teams battled, just like you expect they would,” North Stars coach Brian Harks said. “St. Charles East was able to capitalize on a few opportunities down the stretch. In big games, postseason, that’s what it comes down to. Being able to capitalize when it counts.”