Girls Soccer: Bailey Abbott’s goal propels Benet past Lemont for sectional title

Redwings will face Peoria Notre Dame in Washington Supersectional

Members of the Benet girls soccer team celebrate with their plaque after defeating Lemont 4-0 in the Class 4A Nazareth Sectional championship Friday, May 26, 2023 in LaGrange Park.

LA GRANGE PARK – Bailey Abbott doesn’t always affect the game in a way that shows up in the box score.

Her strong defense, continued growing confidence and leadership propelled the Benet girls soccer into the sectional championship game against Lemont on Friday night. However, she hadn’t seen the ball hit the back of the net this season and picked quite the time to do so.

Her deflection off a corner kick gave Benet an early lead and it never looked back in a decisive 4-0 victory over Lemont in the Class 2A Nazareth Sectional final.

“I think it was super exciting getting that first goal, one, for me and, two, for the team,” Abbott said of her opening goal 11 minutes into Friday’s contest. “I think we played so much more relaxed after that, calmed down and played our game. … I think it gave me so much more confidence in myself and in my game. When you get a goal, you just want to keep going and want to win that much more.”

Benet captains, defender Sadie Sterbenz, who also tallied a goal in the Redwings’ victory, and goalkeeper Shannon Clark, both know how much Abbott’s play may not get the recognition it deserves.

However, the senior duo know they would not be advancing to Tuesday’s 2A Washington Supersectional against Peoria Notre Dame without having Abbott alongside them on Benet’s back line.

“If I don’t have Bailey next to me, I feel kind of uncomfortable back there. She is my other half,” Sterbenz said. “Our whole team knows how great she is, and we keep telling her to believe that herself. It’s honestly so awesome having teammates like her and Shannon back there with me, knowing I can play with complete confidence and know they have my back.”

“Bailey is a phenomenal player and I truly don’t think she gets the credit she deserves,” said Clark, who plays club soccer alongside Abbott for Galaxy Soccer Club out of Naperville. “For her to get a goal in a game like this is amazing. Just seeing her grow from the first time I met her until now … I just could not be more proud of her.”

The clean sheet victory was the 16th shutout win for Benet (19-4) this season. The victory also clinched the second consecutive sectional championship for the Benet girls soccer program and fourth in seven years under coach Gerard Oconer.

The Redwings coach spoke on how reliable his back line is and how Abbott’s performance Friday was something he’s known she has always had in her. Oconer and Abbott’s teammates have never wavered on their confidence in their junior defender.

“I think this was one of the best games Bailey has played,” Oconer said. “I think you could see how much scoring that goal boosted her confidence. When she’s a confident player, she’s an absolute beast in the back. You combine her with Sadie, we’re not getting scored on if those two are playing at that level. I think it’s so huge for us to have Bailey playing with the level of confidence that she is because we’re certainly going to need it in these later rounds.”

Both Abbott’s and Sterbenz’s goals came off corner kicks from standout freshman Ivana Vukas, who also scored a goal of her own in the first half Friday. Sophomore Keira Petrucelli also found the score sheet for Benet.

Lemont (15-5-1) attempted to make a push to begin the second half, trailing by two goals, in hopes of finding the game’s third goal to get back to within one. However, coach Rick Prangen said Sterbenz’s goal to increase the Redwings’ lead to three was a backbreaker for his group on a night it struggled to sustain offensive pressure.

“Clearly, they were pushing the game and are very skilled 1 v 1,” Prangen said of Benet. “I credit my girls for continuing to fight and not giving up, but you have to give credit where credit is due. That is a very, very good side over there. We didn’t want to just come here and defend all game. We wanted to throw numbers forward and try to make a game of it. They make it very tough with the numbers they throw forward and their pace of play, no doubt.”

Abbott and the Redwings kickoff with Peoria Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday with an opportunity to go back to the Class 2A State Tournament for the second consecutive year. Benet finished second last season.

Chris Casey

Chris Casey for Shaw Local News Network

Chris Casey is a contributing reporter to Shaw Local News Network, covering high school sports in DuPage, Kane, and McHenry counties