FORT MYERS — By the time St. John Neumann's Michele Peterson walked off the field after the Celtics' 3-0 loss to host Evangelical Christian School, her palms were stinging and she was nursing a jammed thumb.
That's no surprise considering how the Sentinels (23-1) were peppering the sophomore goalie with shots throughout the girls soccer 1A regional quarterfinal on Wednesday evening.
After a pair of blowout losses to ECS during the regular season, Neumann (5-12-2) was determined to play tough through the entire game and thanks to a tremendous defensive effort led by Peterson and her 25 saves, the Celtics were able to achieve that goal.
"Our defense finally came through," Peterson said. "They are a really good team and we were expecting that. It was good to play a team that is a little bit better than us and we hung in there with them."
"The defense played extraordinary. They knew what the job was and they did what they had to do," Celtics coach Ray Grzywinski said.
"Their goaltender had a great game. She saved everything that was shot at her and we shot a lot at her," ECS coach Steve Magner said. "We just got to find the corners. We didn't find the corners well tonight."
Unfortunately for Neumann, however, it was never able to get going offensively after the Sentinels dominated possession throughout the game.
Mackenzie Phelps put Evangelical on the board at the 29:59 point in the first period after she lofted a shot from about 20 yards out that arced just out of reach of a leaping Peterson. The Sentinels extended that lead to 2-0 after Kylee Rullo booted one through a pack of Celtics defenders just under five minutes later.
After Neumann defender Lurybella Lora was whistled for illegal contact, Evangelical's Haley Pigott tacked on the insurance score with the ensuing penalty kick with 9:08 left to play in the second half. It was Pigott's 70th goal of the season.
"St. John played real well. They played us the full game and made our girls work for everything they got out there tonight," Magner said.
The Celtics did receive a bit of a scare midway through the second after leading scorer Hailey Metzger was involved in a head-to-head collision with a Sentinels defender in midair that left her visibly shaken. Officials ordered Metzger to the sidelines as a precaution after the freshman midfielder had trouble keeping her balance. Metzger was later cleared to return to the game.
Despite the outcome, Grzywinski was pleased with how his team played and is optimistic for next year's team that will return all but two seniors.
"Considering we had several girls who never played soccer before we did very well. We are a young team with a lot of inexperience," Grzywinski said. "I hope they all come back because next year we'll do even better."