3A girls soccer: Plainfield North loses 2-1 to Naperville Central in sectional final

Tigers finish 22-3-1

Plainfield North (correct logo)

PLAINFIELD – Admittedly, Naperville Central had some trashy play on the soccer field Saturday afternoon, but when all was said and done, the Redhawks’ first sectional championship in almost three decades was a thing of beauty.

The seventh-seeded Redhawks (15-5-1) seemed a step slower than the host Plainfield North Tigers for most of the first half, but still managed to own a one-goal lead at the break.

And even though No. 4 Plainfield North did draw even in the second half, Naperville Central’s Becca Ruggiero delivered a second pretty goal to send the red-hot Redhawks into Tuesday’s Class 3A supersectional at St. Charles North after their 2-1 win.

After claiming its first sectional title since 1995, Naperville Central will face the host North Stars, who knocked off Wheaton North in the Sweet 16 on Saturday.

“It was 39 minutes and 45 seconds of garbage, and 15 seconds of brilliance and that’s why soccer stinks,” said Redhawks coach Troy Adams, who added his team almost felt guilty of leading at the break after the Tigers had the better of play and didn’t allow a single shot until Ruggiero opened the game’s scoring with 12:42 left in the first half.

The quick strike was set up by some nifty passing from Emerson Burke and Emma Russell before Ruggiero blasted a shot from 13 yards out. Just like that, the team that was outshot 10-1 in the first half — Plainfield North had seven shots on goal in the opening half but keeper Erin Hackett was not called on to make any real difficult stops — had the lead.

“The first goal we were really just trying to play less touches, find the open player,” said Burke, a freshman forward. “Go from forward to midfield, midfield to forward. That’s really what we did. But that first goal I think it was really well done.”

Plainfield North, which was looking to reach a second straight supersectional, did tie the game when Lauren Mrugala blasted a 30-yard goal into the upper right corner off a restart with 22:51 left in the second half. The play followed a yellow card on Naperville Central and Mrugala took a touch tip from teammate Grier Isaacson on the free kick and then placed the ball in a perfect spot to draw even.

The Redhawks, however, who have not lost in the month of May, didn’t get down at all and about 6 minutes later, Ruggiero struck again, this time into the upper left corner for her third goal of the playoffs and the biggest one to date.

“Obviously, we try really hard to stay focused and not let that get to us,” Ruggiero said of the Tigers’ equalizer. “We still had a good amount of time to come back. We did [come back] and I’m real happy about that. I was running up the field and I saw an open gap and I just took it. Then I asked for the ball and I got it.”

The play was similar to her first score in the game, one that seemed to shift the action in favor of the Redhawks.

“It’s definitely the game of soccer,” she said of the first half. “We were having a rough start, but then we found those quick passes. That really helped. So, when Emerson got the ball she passed it to Emma who one-timed it to me and I think that those are when we do best. We do it quick and we find the space and find each other.”

The two quick strikes were enough to end a great season for the Tigers, who graduated 15 players from last year’s team that lost to eventual state champion O’Fallon, but came right back and had a 22-3-1 campaign in 2024.

“When you’re in the state playoffs it comes down to who’s going to make the extra mistake and we made the extra mistake today,” Plainfield North coach Katie Monterosso said. “You can’t make mistakes on a team like that with the girls that he’s got up top. He’s got some fantastic players. We just made one mistake too many and they made us pay.”

The Tigers’ Katelyn Haiser created several chances in the first half and always seemed around the ball, but was not able to find the back of the net. The Redhawks, then, seemed to pick things up in the second half and not only scored the game-winner, but had chances for a couple more goals late.

“I think that us being able to control our own destiny has been really big,” Burke said of her team’s playoff run. “We like playing for our own destiny, and playing for our next 80 minutes is a big deal for us.”

Adams said his team has bigger goals than the sectional crown.

“This group is focused,” he said. “Our goal was not to win sectional. That’s been done before. The thing for us is getting that first state title. We’re really focused on that.”