Girls Soccer: Benet battles through tough defense to top Kaneland

Redwings finally break through Knights’ packed-in back line for two late goals

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LA GRANGE PARK – For 78 minutes Tuesday, the Benet girls soccer team pushed, pushed and pushed some more in the hopes of eking out a goal against a tough-as-nails Kaneland defense.

That’s what happens when an opponent with which you’re recently familiar packs the box and essentially dares you to take shots, like Kaneland did Tuesday in their Class 2A Nazareth Sectional semifinal.

Benet kept knocking, and finally, with 2 minutes to go against the Knights, junior Rania Fikri connected, then senior forward Anna Casmere added another goal a minute later.

And just like that, Benet won 2-0.

“I saw them just pack it in and put all their defenders in the box,” Fikri said. “There was barely any room in the final third to really do anything. I think we just kept going and being persistent.”

Casmere added, “I think they tried to give us as little space as possible to dribble or to shoot, but I think whatever chances that we had to get it in the box or get a shot off, we took it, and eventually it paid off.”

Benet coach Gerard Oconer agreed.

“They basically put everybody behind the ball,” he said. “They did just enough to disrupt us offensively with our passing rhythm, just getting in shooting lanes.”

You see, these teams have a little history. Less than 2 weeks ago, on May 11, the Redwings dispatched Kaneland 6-1.

Obviously, adjustments were in order, making Round 2 a much different ballgame. Led by a back line of junior defenders Madison Schrader, Emily Kunzer and Casey O’Brien, the Knights forced Benet into hurried shots that often flew just past the pipes and just over the crossbar.

That was by design, O’Brien said.

“I think just shifting together and talking, and just covering with each other,” O’Brien said. “We just knew where everyone was.”

“We changed our formation, and we just wanted to slow them down and catch them in transition,” Kaneland coach Scott Parillo added. “We knew when we played them the way we played them the last time, that wasn’t successful. Once they scored, obviously we had to go back to our other formation we played the last time, because now we had to score.”

Benet (18-4) peppered that Kaneland back line and senior goalkeeper Gillian McDonald with 18 shots – 16 on goal. And the Redwings had legitimate chances, especially in the first half.

In the 24th minute, sophomore midfielder Keira Petrucelli had a golden opportunity, turning on a defender about 20 yards out, but she fired it wide right.

It was more of the same in the second half. Late in the 77th minute, Petrucelli fired a corner kick to senior defender Sadie Sterbenz in front of the net. Sterbenz turned and shot over both the net and the football crossbar.

A minute later, Fikri scored what proved to be the game-winner.

Along with her back line, McDonald had a stellar performance for Kaneland (14-6), corralling 11 saves.

Benet will face Lemont in the sectional final at 5 p.m. Friday at Nazareth. Lemont defeated Hinsdale South in the nightcap 6-1.