MINOOKA – The Minooka girls soccer team already had ended Plainfield North’s long Southwest Prairie Conference winning streak.
The Indians already had clinched a co-championship in the SPC.
But there was unfinished business. On Tuesday’s Senior Night, the Indians had to beat rival Plainfield South to win the title outright.
When the Cougars are the opponent, you can count on it being a spirited, physical battle.
That it was, and it the department that mattered most, Minooka scored twice late in the first half and repelled South’s comeback attempt to secure an emotional 2-1 victory.
“It was an interesting game,” Minooka coach Chris Brolley said with a smile. “It was very physical, probably the most physical game we have had all year. Both teams were playing hard. It was a playoff atmosphere.”
“When we play Plainfield South, it’s always an intense, physical game,” said forward Hailey Arlis, one of two seniors on the roster for the Indians (15-4, 9-0). The other, midfielder Martina Kotrba, was recognized before the game although she has been unable to play since being injured in the season opener.
“It was rough to go through the season without Martina,” Arlis said. “She had surgery, and the team really stepped up for her. Absolutely.”
South (15-9, 5-4) has been battling injury issues as well, contributing to a four-game losing skid, and it did not get better Tuesday.
Senior midfielder Shelby Bishop, just back after sitting out after a concussion, suffered what is feared to be an ACL tear with 25:44 left in the first half. A half-minute earlier, she came close to breaking the scoreless tie, but her attempt went wide right.
The Cougars, who lost regular goalkeeper Nicole Trenholm a few games ago, had a couple of other players exit temporarily with injuries, including versatile senior Lindsey Bond.
“The injuries keep coming,” South coach Alfonso Lopez said. “Our girls played hard, but it just didn’t pan out. Minooka is a good team, a great team, and we knew we had to be at our best to beat them.”
Minooka broke the scoreless tie when midfielder Sam Alessio kicked a long pass from the right side, finding streaking sophomore midfielder Kaleigh Murphy. She put it past South keeper Jami Maloney with 8:26 left in the half.
“That was a great look,” Brolley said. “Murph was able to pick off the pass and put it in. She was ready to run tonight. You could see how psyched she was before the game.”
Not four minutes later, at the 4:32 mark, Minooka junior midfielder Kennedy Messina was awarded a free kick. She put the long kick in front of the net, and sophomore forward Brooke Brodzinski headed it in before going down in pain. Teammates helped her off the field, and she would return.
“I’m still not sure who got the goal – maybe it was Brooke,” Brolley said. “Kennedy put the ball right in there.”
“Brooke is a sophomore and she has been working hard for this team,” Messina said. “We’ve actually done that multiple times, with our forward making a play on the other end of the ball.”
Yet as Arlis noted, a 2-0 lead at halftime can be a double-edged sword.
“It’s nice to be leading, but 2-0 can be one of the roughest leads to have,” she said. “One goal, they’re right back in the game and the momentum can completely shift. Going into the second half, we knew we couldn’t get down, we had to keep playing aggressively. But that can be hard to do when the score is 2-0.”
Indeed, South, which had few good scoring chances against Minooka’s superb defense, chopped its deficit in half when senior midfielder Miranda Nirchi scored on a long shot that caromed off the crossbar and into the net behind Minooka sophomore goalkeeper Bella Alessio. It was Nirchi’s 15th goal.
“I was off my line a little of the goal,” Alessio explained. “But that was a nice ball on No. 14’s part.”
Minooka has blanked nine opponents and never has allowed more than three goals. Nirchi’s goal was the fourth the Indians have yielded in conference play.
“A big part of it is our defense and center mids always working back and helping me,” Alessio said.
“Defense is a key for us,” Brolley said. “We defend really well.”
And, the Indians enjoy doing it.
“This is a fun group to watch and a great group of girls,” Brolley said.
With their outright SPC title having been secured, the Indians anticipate the postseason. Ditto for the Cougars.
“It’s starts over,” Lopez said. “We look forward to a clean slate.”