Bulldogs unable to corral Senators late

Bulldogs unable to corral Senators late

URBANA — Meredith Johnson-Monfort wasn't entering Tuesday's Class 2A sectional semifinal match.

This was never in doubt. The Mahomet-Seymour senior suffered a sprained ankle and pulled tendons in her left foot during Saturday's regional championship bout with Normal U-High.

She first sat, then stood in a boot under the support of crutches as action passed her by at Urbana's McKinley Field. The Bulldogs would not have at their disposal an athlete who produced 117 goals in four previously uninterrupted years.

"It was really tough to just watch the game unfold," Johnson-Monfort said. "But I was so proud of everything our team did. We gave literally our all, and I think that was the best game we've played all season, really, with all of our hearts."

M-S almost outlasted Springfield on Tuesday without the future University of Illinois player.

Almost.

Senators junior Maria Jorquera poked a shot past Bulldogs senior Sarah Hohenstein with 3:36 to play in regulation, lifting top-seeded Springfield to a 2-1 victory over No. 2 M-S.

For the Bulldogs (21-3), it marked the third consecutive year in which their season finished in a sectional semifinal.

"I told our team beforehand, 'We're playing a full 80 minutes or overtime if needed. We're not going to give up,'" M-S coach Joey Gruner said. "(Springfield) is a good team. They're fast, they know what they're doing offensively and it was just a lot to hold them out that long."

The Senators (16-9-1) set out to blunt the Bulldogs' attack as quickly as possible, allowing M-S just two corner kicks and one shot on goal through the first 40 minutes.

But while Springfield's defense proved effective early, coach Patrick Phillips' club had trouble finishing its chances despite garnering four shots on goal and two corners before halftime. Only freshman Emma Carrell was able to break through, converting on a cross late in the first half to put the Senators up 1-0.

"I thought we left a few there," Phillips said. "Didn't follow shots, didn't make some simple plays up there. I thought we could've had control of the game in the first half."

Instead, the Bulldogs approached the second half as a group with nothing to lose.

"We knew it was going to be tough playing without Meredith," M-S junior Maddy Wade said. "But I think we just got pumped up knowing we could still get the win without her."

After Springfield added two quick shots to its ledger out of the break, Senators senior Sarah Wagner was called for a hand ball in the box. That set up Wade with a penalty kick.

"It was tough," Wade said. "It's nerve-wracking going up there knowing that (I needed to score). But I just knew that if I didn't make it, I just needed to finish."

Wade succeeded in that venture. Senior netminder Kalynn Clearwater sprawled to her left for an initial save, but only Wade pursued the loose ball. It wound up denting the twine and M-S tied the match at 1 with 31 minutes left in the second half.

"As long as you're only down 1-0, you feel like you still have a chance," Gruner said. "We're looking for that one opportunity, and we got it."

Less than five minutes later, Springfield was presented a similar situation thanks to a Bulldogs hand ball. Junior Morgan Gill pushed her penalty kick wide right.

From there, it was a mad dash to the finish. Coming up biggest was Hohenstein, whose pair of penalty-kick saves in the regional final allowed M-S to reach this stage. She turned aside three more shots and two corners before Jorquera came up with the winner.

"I think she had more hard balls coming at her, and in the intensity of the situation she really stepped up and did a good job," Gruner said of his goaltender.

Contesting a sectional semifinal without their leading player — against a foe that outscored its first two postseason opponents 17-0 — proved too steep a mountain for the Bulldogs to fully scale.

But the overriding emotion that surrounded the M-S girls after their season-ending setback was not sadness or anger.

It was pride.

"Sure, we've had some tough times, but we've conquered all of them," Johnson-Monfort said. "We've come together as a team and as a family, and I think just leaving that legacy at Mahomet is something I will forever cherish."