CHICAGO -- Cristo Rey got a ton of corner kicks in Tuesday night’s Chicago Prep Conference semifinal matchup against Rochelle Zell at Harrison Park.
They finished with a total of 10. It was the sixth, just minutes after intermission, that turned the tide.
Cristo Rey junior Bibiana Zermeno connected on a header in the 43rd minute, and the Cristeras didn't falter in a 1-0 victory.
They’ll now move on to face Hope at 7 p.m. Thursday for the conference crown. Rochelle Zell will play at 5 p.m. for third place against Ida Crown.
Despite the defeat, Rochelle Zell was definitely proud of its effort.
“Going in to it we knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Rochelle Zell keeper Talia Scholder, who was spectacular Tuesday. She kept her team in the game with outstanding save after outstanding save.
“In the regular-season we had lost to them (by the score of 3-1), so our mentality tonight was to take what we learned throughout the season and just play our hardest.”
Tigers coach David Martinez put his stamp of approval on the performance.
“We did phenomenal today,” he said. “We had our chances; they had their chances. They put the corner away, good for them.
“We’ve been working toward this tournament and the playoffs, and a lot of our work has been defensively. We’ve just got to stick with it for a full 80. Hopefully by the end of the game Thursday we’ll be where we need to be, because we’re capable.”
The contest started on a defensive note. Backliner Sarena Sklar, of Rochelle Zell, and midfielder Miranda Murillo, from Cristo Rey, led the activity for their respective teams and played extremely well early on.
The first real chance of the game came in the fifth minute, when Zell forward and Chicagoland Soccer Little All-Stater Becca Berkeley sent a perfect pass to teammate Zoey Weiss in the box, but the shot went wide.
The Tigers kept the pressure on in the initial stages of the first half. A close-in shot by Berkeley sailed just over the crossbar.
“The entire team was working as hard as we could tonight,” said Berkeley, a junior. “The loss is upsetting, but I’m really proud of how we played. We put in 100 percent effort. That’s what we wanted to do, and we accomplished it.”
Junior Ahava Cohen excelled in the midfield for the Tigers.
Slowly, the first half momentum began to swing toward Cristo Rey.
The Cristeras’ Beverly Valdez had a great chance in the 21st minute, but Scholder stopped her strong shot.
Cristo Rey continued the attack. Jennifer Garcia’s shot in the box was just a little too tall. Teammate Osmara Flores Maldonado followed with another try, but Scholder was there again.
The pressure continued. Jizelle Lopez just missed on a header for an attack that kept the pressure on for the remainder of half number one.
Rochelle Zell’s best opportunity of the match came just before halftime.
Freshman Eliana Shapira made long run down the left flank and found space near the goal line. She got off a perfectly placed shot from a tough angle, but Cristo Rey keeper Abigail Ruiz stretched to get a hand on it. The ball skittered away and just missed going in by inches.
The halftime whistle sounded just after that. According to Cristo Rey coach Julian Gomez, it was the discussion with his team between halves that made all the difference.
“We talked about how both teams were playing very good,” said Gomez, “but if we really wanted to be in the championship match on Thursday,. We had to be more aggressive toward the ball.
“I told the ladies that in the first half we were just ball-watching; we were not aggressive at all. If we wanted to win, we had to be the first ones to the ball. If the ball is in the air, you should be the first one to it. And that’s what we did.
“We did a good job and played much better in the second half.”
On the crucial Cristo Rey corner in the 43rd minute, Valdez sent the boot perfectly to the front of the box. Zermeno's header flew just past the outstretched arm of Scholder for the game-winner.
“Headers are my thing,” said Zermeno. “I took the opportunity. I was in the center between the goal and the other (opposing) player, and I just went for it. I trusted my gut, and it went in.”
Last year Cristo Rey lost to Hope in the title game. Zermeno said that went through her mind after she scored.
“It feels really good,” she said. “I accomplished getting our team through to the championship game. That’s great, because we really want that championship.
“Last year we failed to get that trophy, so this year we’re coming on strong.”
Rochelle Zell didn’t get many good chances the rest of the way due to stellar defense from Cristo Rey, but it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of effort.
“After they scored their goal,” said Berkeley, “we just wanted to get back out there, and show them what we’re made of. We wanted to show that we were still in the game no matter what.”
“They (Cristo Rey) made adjustments; we made adjustments. I’m just proud that we kept fighting even after we got down. It definitely makes us want to come back Thursday even stronger (in the third place game) , to prove that we’re a very strong team.”
Berkeley had the best second half chance for Rochelle Zell, but her hard blast was turned away by Ruiz.
The Tigers battled until the end.
“Even though they got up 1-0,” said Scholder, “we always keep the mentality that it’s 0-0 and just keep fighting. We just tried to learn from our mistakes of marking, continue to build on that, and not let that goal they scored get us down.”
The senior will attend Indiana University in the fall and major in journalism. She said that she was drawn to the field because “my dad is very big with public relations and also does some journalism, and I’ve always been interested in writing.”
Scholder added that it’s always important to keep a positive mindset.
“We try not to beat ourselves up,” she said of herself and her team. “Whatever happens, we continue to fight and continue to give 100 percent effort.
“It was anyone’s game tonight, and we kept showing that. We always keep going strong no matter what.”
GK: Talia Scholder
D: Issy Wolle
D: Sarena Sklar
D: Moriya Mlotek
D: Meira Lieberman
MF: Ahava Cohen
MF: Eliana Shapira
MF: Abby Singer
MF: Zoey Weiss
F: Elana Cohen
F: Becca Berkeley
GK: Abigail Ruiz
F: Jennifer Garcia
F: Beverly Valdez
D: Ashley Padilla
D: Andrea Martinez-Alcantara
D: Bibiana Zermeno
MF: Osmara Flores Maldonado
MF: Paola Jiminez
MF: Miranda Murillo
MF: Melanie Araujo
F: Jizelle Lopez
Chicagoland Soccer MVPs of the Match: Bibiano Zermeno, Cristo Rey; Talia Scholder, sr., GK, Rochelle Zell
CR: Zermeno (Valdez), 43rd minute