AURORA – The grass on Rosary's soccer field already was long when Saturday's IHSA Class 2A girls soccer regional championship match between the host Royals and Kaneland began.
By the time the marathon match was settled – including two overtime periods and a penalty kick shootout – the field was even more ripe for a trimming.
Overgrown grass or not, the Royals loved their home-field advantage after winning the penalty kick shootout, 3-1, following scoreless regulation and overtime sessions. Rosary ousted Kaneland in a regional final for the fourth time in five years.
Last year's meeting – which required a tying goal from Rosary with 1:20 to go in regulation en route to a double-overtime Royals triumph – took place in Rochelle. Saturday's result might have been even more painful for Kaneland, which was the regional's top seed and defeated Rosary in both regular season meetings, 2-0 and 3-0. The Knights were denied what would have been their first regional title in program history.
"I don't know how it happens but it did happen," Kaneland coach Scott Parillo said. "But you know what, the girls, they played tough, they gave it all they had, and sometimes your best just isn't good enough. It's just getting pretty tiresome that it happens to not be good enough when we're here and playing Rosary."
Rosary advances to Tuesday's 2A Hampshire Sectional semifinal against DeKalb.
Until Saturday, the Royals (10-11-1) had dealt with a frustrating spring as various injuries have prevented the Royals from fielding the lineup first-year coach Brian Frank envisioned. One of those injured cogs, junior Maria Witte, missed most of the season with separate injuries, and only returned this week for regionals.
Witte, a St. Cloud State (Minn.) recruit from Batavia, notched the match-clinching penalty kick to give Rosary the 3-1 edge in the shootout.
"It's been crazy," Witte said of Rosary's season. "Just to get everyone back on the field and finally get everyone playing together and meshing, obviously it turned out well."
The Royals, with DePaul-bound senior goalkeeper Lauren Frasca, are well-suited for a shootout. Frasca's reputation – and a dash of gamesmanship – might have contributed to Kaneland's shootout woes. Only Kaneland's second shooter, Madi Jurcenko, converted, while while two other shots hit the post and Frasca stopped another, diving to her right to deny Nicole Koczka.
"I like to wait until they're set up so I can have time to set up myself," Frasca said. "That's my approach. I got in there and really felt comfortable. I knew [Koczka] was a right-footed shooter and I saw her back up, saw her line up … just to get that touch on it was unreal."
Frasca also took a PK in the shootout but sailed her shot high. Lizzie Kelley and Katherine Thielen made their PKs for the Royals before Kaneland goalkeeper Emily Chapman stopped Rosary's fourth attempt, momentarily keeping the Knights (14-4-2) afloat.
Witte said her match-clinching PK was an impromptu strike.
"It depends on where the keeper's going," Witte said. "I just saw her go a little left and I hit it right."
Kaneland maintained much of the possession in the first half but both teams managed periods of pressure as the match unfolded. Kaneland senior defender Delaney Stryczek's header was inches high from giving the Knights a first-half lead.
"We may have had one mistake on someone not marking or covering to give that up but never again in the game did they have that close of a shot that we weren't ready to cover, that we weren't there, so I think we recovered from our mistakes and definitely came out on top," Frasca said. "And it feels unreal."
Rosary junior Quincy Kellett had the Royals' best scoring chance of regulation with about 26:30 to play in the second half but her attempt appeared to be tipped off the crossbar by Chapman.
The match's pace was slowed somewhat by the thick grass. Frank said there were no shenanigans involved.
"They were supposed to come out and mow it [Friday]," Frank said. "I don't know why they didn't. They were scheduled to come out and mow it. It wasn't anything we did on purpose. It just happened to be that way.
"Did it give us an advantage? I don't know. When we're trying to do fast breaks, no, obviously it did not. It's the same grass they played on. If it was slow for them for possession, it was slow for us for in transition."
The Royals are no stranger to postseason success but this season is a different animal as they're headed to sectionals still a game shy of .500.
"We're working on it," Frank said.