LA GRANGE PARK – Benet coach Gerard Oconer was reminded that the last time his team played in a sectional championship match at Nazareth, the Redwings went on to win the Class AA state championship in 2019.
So, he wanted history to repeat itself verbatim Friday, right?
“That was the hope, except we would prefer not to go to PKs,” Oconer replied.
The Redwings edged St. Ignatius on penalties in the 2019 sectional final. This time they avoided the drama and put the game away early.
Defender Bailey Abbott scored off a corner kick from Ivana Vukas at the 29:59 mark of the first half and from there the top-seeded Redwings cruised to a 4-0 decision over second-seeded Lemont.
How important was Abbott’s goal, which was her first of the season and first game-winner of her career?
“It’s everything,” Oconer said. “We talked about that at the beginning of the game.
“If you look at the Kaneland game, we didn’t score early and then it became a dogfight when it didn’t really need to be a dogfight. (The early goal Friday) eased a lot of the pressure. There’s so much anxiety the deeper that you get, and (scoring) allows you to breathe and just play.”
Oconer was referring to Benet’s 2-0 sectional semifinal win over Kaneland, which was scoreless until 1:59 was left in regulation.
“In our last game, we didn’t score until the last two minutes,” Benet defender Sadie Sterbenz said. “That put us out of our comfort zone, so today we just kept saying, we need to get the first goal, get it early.
“I think that really helped us control the rest of the game. We got a goal; this is our game; we’re in control. So, it was better than the last game.
Vukas, a freshman forward, was the catalyst, sending dangerous serves into the box on her corner kicks. Her second offering, from the left side, sailed in front to Abbott, who was crashing in with Sterbenz.
The ball bounced off Abbott and into the net. Where exactly did it hit her?
“I think maybe my stomach,” Abbott said. “I don’t even know.
“It was a very nice service. She always has great services.”
Vukas increased the lead to 2-0 with 18:00 left in the opening half when she got the ball in space in the middle of the field, dribbled forward for about 15 yards and ripped a 29-yard cracker into the lower right corner of the net.
“She’s been amazing,” Abbott said of Vukas. “She came onto this team so confident and her confidence is just building, and it’s so exciting to see what she does.
“She’s always scoring, she’s always making good runs and passes. She’s a great player.”
While she didn’t get an assist on the play, Vukas also triggered Benet’s third goal, which also came off a corner kick with 17:08 remaining in the second half.
Vukas sent the ball in from the right side and a scramble in the middle of the box ensued. Lemont (17-6-1) tried to clear the ball, but Sterbenz kicked at the ball while lying on the ground and sent a 15-yard shot slithering inside the left post.
Lemont coach Rick Prangen said that was deflating.
“Our goal was to come out in the second half and if we can score, now it’s 2-1,” Prangen said. “I think it was about 20 minutes into the second half when the third goal happened.
“It happened again on a corner that we don’t clear. Then the fourth one was a bit of a lack of concentration at that point.”
By that point, Lemont was worn down from constantly chasing the ball. The Redwings (19-4-0) had plenty of room to operate and took advantage again three minutes after Sterbenz’s goal.
This time it was sophomore Keira Petrucelli who took a rip from 27 yards. It went top shelf to cap the scoring with exactly 14 minutes left. Rania Fikri got the assist.
“They’re a very, very good side, but we didn’t want to come in and just defend today,” Prangen said. “We wanted to actually start playing and try getting forward and try making a game of it, so I give my girls a ton of credit for that.”
But the Redwings were just too much. They outshot their opponents 18-2. Lemont’s only attempts came early in the first half on two long-range shots from Ella Simpson.
Denver-bound Benet goalkeeper Shannon Clark was in position to handle both attempts, the better of which was Chapman’s 32-yard free kick which was saved near the left post. Clark recorded her 16th shutout of the season, keeping alive Benet’s hopes to eclipse the school record of 18.
“The biggest thing is the transition from having to defend like that and then being able to keep the ball and have them defend you a little bit and get forward,” Prangen said. “I do think at times they were pushing so many numbers forward, gaps were opening up where it was ripe for getting forward on a counterattack.
“In the final third we had maybe had three or four good buildups to get down there and then the final ball was lacking. But well-deserved (win) by them, and I wish them the best of luck in the tournament.”
Opponents will need luck if the Redwings, who play Notre Dame (Peoria) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Washington Supersectional, play the way they did Friday. Wave after wave of attacks eventually overwhelmed Lemont.
Vukas was the leader of that attack.
“I just wanted to put it away early so (my teammates) weren’t stressing about it later on,” Vukas said. “I just wanted to take the initiative and show that we can build this team up.”
Oconer was impressed with how Vukas did that.
“She was just ultra-aggressive,” Oconer said. “When she’s not tentative, when she’s aggressive with her skill set, it’s just very hard to be able to contain her.
“You have her on one side, you have (senior) Anna (Casmere) on the other, so it’s hard. If you try to shut down one of them, you’ve got to deal with the other one. So sometimes it’s an Anna day, sometimes it’s an Ivana day, and this was certainly Ivana’s game today.”
GK: Shannon Clark
D: Sadie Sterbenz
D: Gabby Hedden
D: Bailey Abbott
D: Nora Hanson
M: Rania Fikri
M: Reese MacDonald
M: Keira Petrucelli
M: Annie Fitzgerald
F: Ivana Vukas
F: Anna Casmere
GK: Lauren Tracy
D: Daria Koslosky
D: Chase Bergeson
D: Ava DeMaio
D: Nicole Bobek
D: Casey Kittridge
M: Ella Simpson
M: Paige Bingen
F: Emma Amberg
F: Suzie Knutte
F: Annabella DeMaio
Chicagoland Soccer MVP of the Match – Ivana Vukas, fr., F, Benet
Benet: Bailey Abbott (Ivana Vukas), 29:59 remaining
Benet: Vukas 18:00 remaining
Benet: Sadie Sterbenz 17:08 remaining
Benet: Keira Petrucelli (Rania Fikri) 14:00 remaining