Third-ranked Loyola (10-0-1) will join rival New Trier in Saturday's quarterfinals of the Pepsi Showdown after defeating Hersey 2-0 Thursday afternoon at the Ramblers' sports complex in Glenview.
Senior Meeghan Smith, just off the injured list, had a hand in both goals, including teammate Margaret Walker's in the 32nd minute to all but cement Loyola's place in the tournament's final eight. Those contests will be played at Olympic Park in Schaumburg, where Loyola will face the Trevians, a 1-0 winner against Jacobs on Thursday night in Wilmette.
"That is easily the best team we faced this season thus far," said Loyola coach Craig Snower of the Huskies (9-3-2), who were playing their third match in as many days. "I was worried that (Lauren) Gierman was going to put one in on us, and the play from Nos. 10 (Megan Boyle) and No. 11 (Nicole Piertro) gave us trouble throughout. But it's great to have Smith back to help give our offense a lift."
The visiting Huskies, coming off an emotionally draining victory over Palatine on Wednesday, struggled through the opening quarter-hour, which resulted in the Brad Abel's club chasing the lead just nine minutes into the match as the hosts took up residence in the Hersey end from the opening whistle. They didn't budge until the midway through the first period, when the Huskies finally settled in and began to play to their true level.
"Yes, we might have had tired legs from (Wednesday) night and our game on Tuesday, but that's not an excuse for the way we played at the start," Abel said. "But we slowly began to possess, and to move the ball around, especially in the second half. In the end, despite the loss, I still feel there were a lot of positives to find from this game."
Smith used a nifty touch to go low past a diving Morgan Harris after she broke free down the side for her first goal of the tournament.
Gierman sounded a warning that the Huskies were back in gear when the junior nearly found Pietro at the end of a well-paced free kick at 17 minutes. That fueled some strong play in the middle by Boyle and Pietro, who with every touch forced the big back four of Loyola to defend and tackle more than they're accustomed to; the Ramblers entered the match without having conceded a goal in its 10 previous games.
"Their back line was big, and they made things difficult for us in the air with their size and strength, and it was something we had trouble with from time to time," said Boyle, a senior.
Loyola doubled its lead seven minutes before intermission after Harris made an initial save on Smith but was unable to hold on tight enough during a scramble inside the 6-yard box. That allowed Walker to finish just inside the post.
"All of us could have defended both goals much better than we did," said Hersey's Olivia Stasiuk, who was superb during her 80 minutes of work along the back. "I thought we picked it up in the second half, and got forward so much better than we did in the first half, but we just weren't able to get one into the back of the net."
Boyle and Casey Weyhrich forced Loyola's Brittany San Roman to save a chance by the Huskies in the 42nd minute. Later, Pietro's redirected header of a Weyhrich serve went wide as the visitors began to build confidence in their attack.
Gierman, who kept Loyola on edge with her runs and dead-ball attempts, did well on her free kick at 68 minutes to provide a shot for a teammate which went wide. Five minutes later, Gierman skimmed the bar from 24 yards.
"(They) gave us a real tough match today, but we have a defense that we're very confident in, and as a group they did very well in keeping (Hersey) in check, while not allowing too many good looks on frame," said Snower, whose club defeated New Trier in a sectional final 2-0 last spring.
"I thought our younger players did well after a big of a shaky start," said Abel. "They responded to the speed, size and experience of a team like Loyola, and it is games like this which will help them and the rest of the team down the stretch."