In the post-game analysis of the matchup between Swanton and Cardinal Stritch for the Division III girls soccer sectional championship it was fairly evident, from a ball control stand point, this was an evenly played contest with perhaps a slight edge given to Stritch. But from the perspective of big plays and taking advantage of created opportunities, this game was a mismatch with the Bulldogs making the most of almost every chance they had as they routed the visiting Cardinals, 5-1, at Krupitzer Field to advance to the district semifinal.
Despite being seeded sixth, Cardinal Stritch immediately showed why they were the TAAC and NWOHSSL champions and took the game straight at top-seeded Swanton. They were quick to the ball and out maneuvered the Dogs with excellent foot skills and precision passing and dominated the early part of the game. Fortunately for Swanton, the Cardinals could not capitalize with a score.
The Bulldogs recovered from the fast-paced Stritch attack and began to put some pressure of their own on the Cardinal defense. With 13:54 gone in the half, Taylor Pelland pounced on a loose ball about five yards outside the penalty box and drilled a shot just to the left of goalie Hanna Hymore to give Swanton a 1-0 lead.
For the next 16 minutes the teams took turns attacking each other’s goal with no results until Shae Hallowell duplicated Pelland’s effort from almost the same spot on the field, giving the Bulldogs a two goal advantage. The Cardinals finally got on the board just before halftime when Kali Hardy out raced keeper Amber Torres to a long pass and pushed the ball into the net to cut the Bulldog lead in half at 2-1 as the teams went to the break.
Defense ruled the second half for almost 19 minutes as Swanton held on to the precarious one goal lead. Then suddenly, as if turned on by a switch, the Bulldogs took control, offensively and defensively. Erica Keller started the surge by sending a booming kick towards the goal from the far left sideline, approximately 40 yards away. The ball stayed high and sailed over the keeper’s head into the upper right hand corner of the net to restore the Dogs’ two goal cushion.
“I was just hoping for a miracle,” said the senior forward relaying her thoughts after the ball left her foot. “I wasn’t really trying to score it was more along the lines of if it goes in it goes in, and I trusted my team enough to follow that through.”
Not long after it looked as though the Cardinals were going to get right back in it when Swanton was called for a hand ball violation in their penalty box area resulting in a direct kick, leaving only Torres to defend the spacious 192 square feet of net behind her. The Stritch kicker sent a rocket to her right side and Torres dove straight out and was able to get her out stretched hands on the ball to deflect it harmlessly out of bounds.
“When we went to Kalida I made a PK save and I thought if I did it once I can do it again. So I had faith in myself,” said the confident Bulldog keeper explaining her mind set before the attempt.
The great save seemed to completely deflate the Cardinals while the Dogs remained on the attack. Haley Nelson scored at the 15:10 mark, converting a long crossing pass from Keller with a header that split two defenders before whizzing past the goalie. And Hallowell finished the scoring with her second of the game, a high blast that caromed off the cross bar and came down just over the goal line for the 5-1 final.
“We started out slow but we picked it up and wore them down,” said Swanton coach Jim Dickman. “We’ve been conditioning since June and our conditioning is huge. It’s been a big factor in all of our big games. We’re almost as strong at the end as we are starting out. That’s how we wear everybody down.”
With the sectional title now in hand Swanton heads to Genoa on Wednesday evening to take on Eastwood. The game is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Bill O’Connell can be reached at [email protected]