FREEPORT – Amanda Cook did all she could to give the Sycamore girls soccer team a chance.
The freshman goalkeeper made big save after big save after Katherine Kohler’s goal late in the first half, which cut the Freeport lead to two goals.
But the Pretzels’ offensive onslaught kept coming, putting consistent pressure on Sycamore’s back line and breaking through in an 8-1 win over the Spartans in a Class 3A Freeport Sectional semifinal.
Freeport advances to play Prairie Ridge in the sectional final Friday.
“[Cook’s] come a long way. Her and Anna (Haub),” Sycamore senior Lauren Miller said. “Amanda has really stepped up, in the beginning I don’t think she said one word. Now she’s commanding, making fantastic saves. I think she’s grown.”
Cook made 15 saves in the match, including 10 in the first half to keep the semifinal within reach.
Freeport scored first when Pretzel forward Darice Brooks forced a takeaway in Sycamore’s defensive third, took two dribbles and put a left-footed shot in the upper left corner in the 10th minute.
The Pretzels scored twice more within the next 13 minutes, one off a corner kick and the third coming off the foot of Haley Swords, who curled a left-footed shot in from 12 yards out on the left side of the penalty box.
“We took a little bit of time getting going,” Sycamore coach Dave Lichamer said. “I didn’t really want to see that, but it happens.”
Sycamore got on the scoreboard in the 28th minute when Miller sent a chip over the top to Kohler, who was just even with the Freeport sweeper. Kohler took two dribbles, made a move to her left and then slotted a left-footed shot into an open net to cut the deficit to 3-1.
In the final five minutes of the half, Cook made a series of great saves to keep Sycamore (9-12-2) within striking distance. Freeport’s Emily Hayner got through on a breakaway, but Cook came out of her box and got just enough of her right hand on the shot to save it before a defender cleared the ball away off the goal line.
Less than a minute later, Freeport’s Ali Reed hit a hard left-footed shot from the top of penalty box, but Cook made a diving save to her left and gave away no rebound.
“This could’ve been a much different score without her in goal,” Lichamer said. “She was pulling down some great saves and really kept us in it for as long as we were.”
Freeport’s pressure was unrelenting in the second half as the Pretzels scored five goals to pull away. The seven-goal differential was unusual for a Sycamore-Freeport playoff match because only one of the past seven postseason matches between the two teams had been decided by more than one goal.
Playing with a younger team than in recent years, Sycamore still managed to win its second straight regional championship. But the Spartans fell to the Pretzels for the third consecutive postseason.
Miller said she always will remember Friday’s regional championship win over Burlington Central.
“It was fun. Honestly, I have memories that I will not forget,” Miller said. “I love the girls that I played with all four years. I have memories from each one. I’m going to miss them a lot.”