SYCAMORE – The nervous feeling was a familiar one for the Sycamore girls soccer team as the minutes ticked by in the second half of the dead-locked Class 2A Sycamore Regional championship.
Two days earlier, the Spartans didn’t score in the first 62 minutes before bagging the lone goal of a semifinal win over Crystal Lake Central. On Friday, the back-and-forth championship match was scoreless midway through the second half, and Burlington Central was gaining momentum.
But the Spartans pushed forward with 19 minutes remaining, when Lauren Miller collected a loose ball in the penalty area and found the corner of the goal to give the Spartans a 1-0 win and their second straight regional championship.
The Spartans advance to play Freeport in a Class 2A Freeport Sectional semifinal Wednesday.
“Getting that one, then you’re like, ‘OK, we’re fine,’ ” coach Dave Lichamer said. “Whoever was going to get that first goal was going to have a really big advantage. It was a little ease off of us to get it first.”
Neither team created many chances offensively in the first half, which primarily was played in the midfield. The Spartans (9-11-2) had their first legitimate chance in the 18th minute, when Miller’s shot was turned away by the Burlington Central goalkeeper.
Alyssa Maillefer had a chance to put Sycamore on the board four minutes later when she received a cross from Amy Schroeder, but her shot from just outside the six-yard box was saved.
Burlington Central (18-3-1) came out in the second half with more attacking intensity and controlled the flow of the match early, but the Spartans’ defense held steady.
“We stayed composed,” Miller said. “We just played as a team, and that’s all you can really do. We stuck together.”
Miller finally scored after 61 minutes of back-and-forth soccer. A Burlington Central defender deflected a Sycamore cross to the Spartans’ forward, who placed the ball into the lower left corner.
“I feel like we had a lot of good shots on goal and a lot of good chances, but we hadn’t finished any of them, so to finish one felt really good,” Maillefer said. “It was a really big sense of relief to be able to know that all you have to do is stay up, you’re not chasing anymore.”
The Spartans moved on with a 1-0 win for the second straight match, but this one was a little bit different from the Sycamore-dominated semifinal.
“With Crystal Lake, we were able to maintain a lot of control through the midfield and we were winning a lot of 50-50s,” Lichamer said. “Today it wasn’t that. Burlington was pressing on us, they were winning the 50-50s. … But we took advantage when we needed to.”