WHEATON – At this time last year, Keira Petrucelli wasn’t yet a Benet student and wasn’t playing soccer because of a major knee injury.
On Tuesday night in the Class 2A St. Francis Supersectional, Petrucelli was on the receiving end of yet another dazzling play from senior Mariana Pinto. Petrucelli finished Pinto’s gorgeous pass with 15:06 remaining to lift the Redwings to a 1-0 victory over Dunlap and a berth in this weekend’s state finals.
Benet (21-4) will face Deerfield (22-3-2) at 1 p.m. Friday in a state semifinal at North Central College.
“It’s unreal,” Pinto said. “It still feels unreal, but we’re so prepared and so excited. This is huge for everyone at all levels to be able to experience this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing.”
Recognizing what was at stake with the game scoreless and getting late into the second half, Pinto didn’t hesitate in redirecting a scoring opportunity to her freshman teammate after fellow senior Katie Lewellyan worked the ball into her.
With 25 goals to her name this spring, opponents know Pinto.
“What’s happened over the last two weeks or so is everybody knows about Mariana and they all collapse on her,” Benet coach Gerard Oconer said. “And now she’s learned to find the open people running off of her and that’s how we’re scoring our goals.”
The Redwings were determined that the weak side would be open at times and seized on one of those chances after seeing a handful of decent opportunities dissipate earlier.
“A play like that happens so fast that it’s almost like a counter because Katie took it down the line really fast and knew everyone was trailing,” Pinto said. “I retrieved the ball with my right and I knew I could take a shot, but at that angle and with the ball traveling super fast, I knew it was a 50/50 (chance) so I just tried to play through and knew (Petrucelli) would be there.”
Acknowledging that she was ready for a rebound, Petrucelli wasn’t the least bit surprised that Pinto set her up for the game-winner.
“Mariana is the best player I’ve gotten to be on the field with and I just love having her as a role model on and off the field,” Petrucelli said. “I was trying to be there in case she shot the ball and there was a rebound because we were talking about following every single ball and when she crossed it back I was there to stay composed and to finish it.”
Dunlap (19-3-3) put one final scare into the Redwings with 1:38 left after a throw-in resulted in the ball bouncing between a few bodies before being sent toward Benet junior goalkeeper Shannon Clark, who made her fourth save of the game.
“Our back four has been solid all year long,” Oconer said. “Annastacia (Thiel) is pretty much the key to that. She cleans everything up, organizing everything back here. She is just so smart with her positions so we know that our other defenders can take chances.”
Benet, which won a state title in 2019, earned its 13th shutout of the season. Its four losses have all been to Class 3A regional champions, including Glenbard West, which won a sectional, and Metea Valley, which qualified for state for the first time in program history.