BROOKFIELD -- A matter of inches first cost Riverside-Brookfield a second half lead in Tuesday’s Class 3A regional semifinals, then won the Bulldogs the game.
But four minutes after a tough, hand ball call on a Glenbard East shot attempt resulted in a game-tying penalty kick for the Rams’ Maddie Kiefer, host Riverside-Brookfield had a deciding answer that was part aim, part the wind and part good luck.
Senior Nina Bretz’s high lofting shot from the far left-side of the box at 15 yards angled inside the upper right corner of the net, breaking a 1-1 tie with 29:58 left and eventually earning Riverside-Brookfield (15-6-1) a 2-1 win over the Rams (11-9-1).
On an impossible-angle shot, Bretz had a shoot-and-hope-for-the-best approach. She got exactly that.
“It’s honestly, get in the box and the magic can happen,” Bretz said. “That’s all I’m trying to do at the end of the day. Obviously, I didn’t expect that (goal) to happen, but I couldn’t be happier that it did.”
Ella Caputo scored Riverside-Brookfield’s first goal just 103 seconds into the second half to put her team up 1-0.
Later, on Bretz’s high-arcing try, Caputo was near the net as she realized the improbable was happening.
“I was running in there for the cross,” Caputo said, “and I was like ‘No way, that’s going in!’ It was amazing.
“The wind (at Riverside-Brookfield’s back in the second half) was definitely a big factor. That’s why we wanted to get them with the wind first – that way if anything happened for them, we could get it back in the second half.
“It definitely helped. Nina’s goal definitely had the wind involved, pushing it into the goal.”
Wind factor or not, the tough angle goal was nothing new for Bretz.
“It brought me back actually,” Bretz said. “Last year in a game I hit a shot just like that, and it just magically made it in.”
Magical has hardly been the description for the majority of Bretz’s spring.
“I've been injured all season,” she said. “The first couple weeks I was out. Then we played Morton and a girl landed on my knee, and I hyperextended it and hurt my hamstring. But I've been getting treatment every day, and I'm finally back to my full strength.”
For Glenbard East, a well-played back-and-forth game became a narrow defeat.
“I knew this was going to be a battle coming in,” Rams coach Athena Toliopoulos said. “We were pretty evenly matched.
“That long ball has been our struggle all season, and we just happened to have one go in. And that's the difference in the game.
“I knew when the wind started up just before our game, it was going to be a tough one. We had at least four games (this season) that could have gone our way, but it's that long ball in the air with the wind that's pretty rough.”
The deciding play was a product of Riverside-Brookfield’s aggressive scoring mentality.
“We keep telling the girls 'Put it on frame; good things are going to happen,’ whether it's a rebound or it goes in,” Riverside-Brookfield coach Ivek Halic said.
“I'm very pleased with the girls. The second half we made a couple of adjustments, the main thing to keep pressure on them (Glenbard East) and not give them time with the ball.”
Having the wind was another second half switch for the Bulldogs, after enduring a first half-enhanced Rams’ attack.
Riverside-Brookfield started well with good early chances. A Niamh Larson 15-yarder went wide right in the 7th minute and a Madison Bisules corner kick hit the side of the net 10 minutes in.
Glenbard East had its own moments. They began when Jamie Quirk powered a running 22-yard one-timer just wide in the 8th minute. A Rams corner kick in the 12th minute was diffused, and a throw-in from six yards off the endline in the 16th minute was nicely cleared by Lucy Drenth and Bisules.
Even into the wind, Riverside-Brookfield had its share of chances. The best came in the 17th minute, when a Bretz pass sprung Caputo on a left-wing dash to the net. Keeping her balance and the ball as she broke in on goalie Alana Kutlic, Caputo sent her shot off the left post before the Rams’ defense cleared the loose ball from the crease.
Caputo was back threatening again on a 33rd-minute rush, but her 8-yard straight-on try went over the crossbar.
After Glenbard East’s Hope McKenna had her 33-yard free kick saved 25 seconds before halftime by Riverside-Brookfield goalkeeper Piper Blair, Caputo’s next chance near the net broke the 0-0 halftime tie with 38:17 left to play.
“Our goal is always to score in the first five minutes of a half, to get the adrenalin pumping and the team going,” Caputo said. “As soon as he (Halic) talked at halftime, we were like ‘Let’s go get a goal.’ And we did.”
Monique Sandoval’s initial send to Hall near the top of the box began the scoring play. Hall’s shot attempt then deflected toward the crease, where Caputo won control and lined home the game’s first goal.
“My position is mainly just to get up there and get anything I can,” Caputo said. “As soon as I saw Hazel getting that ball up there, I just went for it. I was just hoping it (the shot) would go in, and it did. I saw the goalie on one side (of the net), and I just hit the other side.”
But the Bulldogs’ 1-0 lead didn't last long.
Glenbard East earned a 24-yard left sideline free kick with 34:40 left. The high, McKenna shot was juggled and caught by Blair.
The resilient Rams were back on the attack 35 seconds later. Brielle DeForest found striker Maya Reinheimer on a left-side bursting attack.
Reinheimer’s shot in the box grazed a finger of defender Sophie Swicionis for a hand-ball call. That produced a Kiefer penalty kick goal and a 1-1 tie.
But that horrible-luck moment was the lone blemish on a great night for the Bulldogs defense.
“Our defense,” Bretz said, “having Lucy, Jess (Sharenow), and Sophie – she was kind of nervous after that (hand ball) happened, but I knew she would get back through it. And even (Abigail) Ford, she’s a freshman – I knew they’d be fine back there. And Piper, even when she gets scored on, she bounces back so quickly.
“Our team knew what we had to do today. We couldn’t have done it without everyone.”
Even after the PK equalizer, Halic had faith his team would respond well.
“We've been in these situations before,” he said. “The main thing is to recollect themselves, continue on and play our game.”
Riverside-Brookfield responded well. Larson earned two free kicks from beyond 35 yards in the ensuing four minutes (one saved, one over the net), and Bretz followed with the game-winner.
“We tried to get more ball control (after halftime),” Caputo said, “because we realized the other team was mainly playing the middle. So, we were trying to get to the outsides more and try to beat the defenders to the outside and then cross it in.
“I thought we did a pretty good job getting it outside and then back to the middle and getting shots on. Nina wouldn’t have gotten that goal if we didn’t get on the outside.”
With the 2-1 lead, the Riverside-Brookfield defense did the rest.
“My entire defense, I have to give them a lot of credit,” Halic said. “Jessica is an (IHSSCA) all-sectional player, Lucy all-conference. I can't speak enough about them.
“And what I liked was, all the girls were working back and supporting each other. It's a team effort.”
A Glenbard East corner kick with 26:10 left was cleared by forward Hall. The best chance of the next 15 minutes was a Hall high 12-yard shot nabbed by Rams keeper Kutlic.
Ford nicely blocked a Sophie Somessi shot with 6:50 to go, with Caputo then clearing the defensive zone.
Another Glenbard East threat on a throw-in with 6:05 left ended with a Tyler Rejano shot wide.
Riverside-Brookfield permitted no more chances even near the box.
A McKenna 28-yard one-timer went wide with 2:40 to play. Then with 1:10 left, Sharenow made a nice midair boot to midfield of a Glenbard East downfield send.
Sharenow followed with another denial of a play 25 yards out with 30 seconds left, with Drenth sending the ball out on the side. On the ensuing throw-in, Bretz won the ball on the right sideline and rocketed it downfield as the final seconds ticked away.
“I’m so incredibly proud of the team,” Caputo said. “This has to be the best we’ve ever done, and I think a lot has been helped by how close we’ve been. We’ve been doing weekly dinners and things this year, and our focus to really want to win has helped a lot. We realized we had the skill, and we can do it. We’ve gotten more confidence in ourselves.”
Said Bretz: “Our team is so close. If someone is having a bad day or something we get past that together as a team.
“This win means so much to our team, especially because so many of us are graduating this year. We want to keep our season going as long as we can.”
The next hurdle in that goal comes Friday in the regional semifinal, when Riverside-Brookfield hosts a Hinsdale Central squad that defeated Proviso East 8-0 Tuesday. Carter Knotts led the way with a hat-trick.
“It's going to be real difficult,” Halic said. “We'll take these next couple of days to recover and come up with a game plan. Hinsdale Central is always up there, with quality girls and quality coaching.
Riverside-Brookfield will have extra motivation.
“Last year against Hinsdale Central we lost on PKs (in the regional semifinals),” Bretz said, “so I'm really excited to go up against them again.”
Said Halic: “New year, new teams. We both lost a lot of players to graduation. But we have a great team. We just have to come out and show it.”
As for Glenbard East, a successful season ended in a close battle.
“I want to highlight our four seniors that started for us pretty much all season,” Toliopoulos said. “Allison Ihms, Maddie Kiefer, Brielle DeForest and Tyler Rejano. And they all left everything on the field, just what we ask them to do. These kids play hard.”
Rams opponents had to cope with a balanced attack.
“The goal-scorers were spread out,” Toliopoulos said. “Our top scorers were Ciara Johnson and Maya Reinheimer, with six or seven, and then Cleo Glenzinski. But in total we had eight to 10 people who scored this year.”
Before running into Riverside-Brookfield, the Rams had been on a roll.
“We finished super strong,” Toliopoulos said. “We were 6-1 in our last seven games. We just battled it out. We played Glenbard West to a 1-0 score and could have won that, but the good news was we’re co-champions of the Glenbard Cup this year. We had never done that before. That was a fun feat.”
GK: Alana Kutlic
D: Hope McKenna
D: Jamie Quirk
D: Allison Ihms
D: Brissa Sarabia
M: Ciara Johnson
M: Tyler Rejano
M: Julia Bereta
M: Brielle DeForest
F: Maddie Kiefer
F: Maya Reinheimer
GK: Piper Blair
D: Lucy Drenth
D: Jessica Sharenow
D: Sophie Swicionis
D: Abigail Ford
M: Ella Caputo
M: Niamh Larson
M: Nina Bretz
M: Madison Bisules
M: Kate Newberry
F: Hazel Hall
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match: Nina Bretz, sr. MF, Riverside-Brookfield
RB-Ella Caputo (Hazel Hall assist), 42’
GE-Maddie Kiefer (PK), 46’
RB-Nina Bretz (unassisted), 51’