In a season filled with adversity for St. John Neumann’s girls soccer team, it was only fitting the Celtics had to persevere yet again in Friday’s District 2A-12 championship game with Evangelical Christian.
Facing an opponent which had beaten the Celtics by a combined count of 11-0 in two regular-season games, St. John Neumann was on the defensive the entire game. The Sentinels outshot the Celtics 39-5 and had the ball on St. John Neumann’s end virtually the entire contest.
But thanks to a stout defensive effort and clutch saves by junior goalkeeper Jackie Sullivan, the Celtics pushed the game to penalty kicks where they outscored the Sentinels 4-3 for a 1-0 district title victory.
St. John Neumann (9-9-2) advances to the regional quarterfinals Thursday, where the Celtics will host the District 2A-11 runner-up.
“Our defense held us in the game or else we could have lost 6-0,” Sullivan said of Friday’s win. “After playing them twice in the regular season, we knew we’d need a more well-rounded game this time around. They had a lot of opportunities in the first half but we hung tough and didn’t give up.”
St. John Neumann coach Ray Grzywinski couldn’t have been more proud of his squad.
“Throughout the season, we had our share of adversity,” Grzywinski said. “Our top scorer, Kelly Tripp, missed several games due to an injury and a few more with an illness. We had injury problems all year and we didn’t have a very deep bench.
“There were times this year where I just thought we’d have to focus on next year because it just didn’t seem to be our year. But the girls never gave up, they kept fighting.”
As Evangelical Christian fired shot after shot on goal and the game progressed through two overtimes, the Celtics’ confidence seemed to grow.
Once the shootout came, it was anyone’s game. With the shootout tied at 2, Sullivan made a big save on the Sentinels’ Kelsi Krohn. Giulia Marsico then found the back of the net to give the Celtics a 3-2 shootout lead.
Following misses by Evangelical’s Sarah Spann and Neumann’s Alex Burr, the Sentinels’ Olivia Skaff tied the shootout at 3, setting the stage for Neumann’s final shot.
Freshman Marissa Calhoun, who had an outstanding game from her midfield position, drew the assignment and deposited the ball in the back left corner of the net.
“I was definitely nervous and I was scared to death watching the rest of the shooters,” Calhoun said. “But once I got up there, I knew I could do it.
“This was a great win for us because we showed a lot of teamwork. It took a lot of hustle and they had a lot of chances on us. Jackie played a great game.”