FREEPORT – Dixon’s girls soccer team did something no other team could do against Freeport this season: put a goal on the scoreboard.
The Duchesses fell just short of their big goal, however, and that was to take down the Pretzels.
Freeport scored two goals in the final 16 minutes to pull out a 2-1 victory on Tuesday evening in a Class 2A Freeport Sectional semifinal. The Duchesses end their season at 14-2, while the Pretzels (15-0) will host Burlington Central on Friday at 6 p.m., with a sectional championship at stake.
Central blanked Rockford Boylan 1-0 in its sectional semi.
Dixon’s players were full of tears afterward, but gave a championship-worthy effort.
“Freeport is a tough team,” Dixon senior Taylor Harrison said. “We came out, played our hearts out, and that’s all we can ask for. It just sums up our season. We came to play every game, and that was no different today. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but that’s OK. I’m proud of the way we played today.”
“…Things did not work in our favor,” Dixon coach Mahmoud Etemadi added. “They worked in Freeport’s favor, deservedly, but I cannot be any more happy with the way our ladies played. They played their hearts out, and they played awesome.”
Both defenses were airtight for the first 56 minutes of play before Dixon was finally able to break through. Paige Stees found Harrison with a centering pass, finally free of a Freeport defense that stuck to her like glue all night. Harrison was then able to loft a shot over the outstretched arms of Pretzels goalie Naomi Jackson and into the goal, setting off a wild celebration by Dixon players and fans.
It was the first goal allowed this season by Jackson, a University of Illinois recruit.
“Paige was in the right place at the right time, and it was the same with me,” Harrison said. “I was right there where I needed to be. It was a great play by everybody.”
Harrison’s 59th goal this season came with 23 minutes, 39 seconds remaining on the clock. The lead lasted a little more than 7 minutes.
With 16:15 to go, Dixon sweeper Emma Evans was called for a handball in the box while defending the Pretzels’ Autumn Diduch. It led to a converted penalty kick by Cadence Diduch.
“I think they called me for a handball, but I don’t really know,” Evans said. “It hit my face. I don’t know – it kind of hit everywhere. I don’t know if it hit my hand, but he called a handball. You just have to go with the ref. Whatever he calls, you just have to go with it.”
A little more than a minute later, Freeport pieced together a stunner of a go-ahead goal. It was from about 25 yards, and way left of the goal. Mattie Schaney, like the Diduch sisters a freshman, unleashed a shot that curled into the upper right-hand side of the net, leaving Dixon goalie Abbie Provo little chance to swat it away.
“I didn’t know that it was going to go in, but I knew that we had to win because this is what we’ve been looking forward to,” said Schaney of her third goal this season. “I prayed that we’d actually make another goal so that we’d keep going. This is what everybody wants to do.”
Dixon’s chances for a comeback were diminished with 7 minutes to play. Katie Drew slid and appeared to cleanly knock the ball away from Autumn Diduch, but was called for a foul. Teammate Abby Goff expressed her displeasure with the call and received a red card, leaving the Duchesses to play short-handed the rest of the way.
Goff had 33 assists this season, a single-season mark for the Duchesses, breaking Harrison’s record of 31 set in 2019.
“I don’t think there was a penalty,” Drew said. “I think there was a lot of crowd influence today. You’ve just got to play with the circumstances you’re given. We played the best we could, and it sucks we came up short.”
Freeport’s defense was centered around slowing down Harrison, the main scorer, and Goff, the main distributor. Cadence Diduch was assigned to Harrison the entire game.
“Cadence is a nationally ranked wrestler, she’s a freshman and she’s a great defender,” Freeport coach Nick Namio said. “We felt she’d do a good job on Taylor, but we did anticipate Taylor getting free because we know how good she is. We did do a good job of watching her.
“We also had somebody watching Goff to make sure she didn’t do too much distribution, and I thought my girls did a nice job of that today. Both of those players are great, and I’m big fans of both of them.”