In terms of winning, maybe it's best to say Westminster Christian's girls soccer team knows to do so in the clutch.
Or maybe that's just how it goes when the Warriors face off against their next door neighbors, rival Harvest Christian, in postseason play as opposed to the regular season.
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The No. 2 seed Lions may have had Westminster's number twice in the regular season by a combined score of 5-0, but for the second-straight year that didn't matter as the No. 3 Warriors denied the Lions another postseason victory when they jumped out to a 3-goal lead en route to a 3-2 Class 1A regional semifinal win Wednesday in Elgin. The victory gives Westminster a date with No. 1 St. Edward Friday at 4:30 p.m. for the regional championship for the second-straight year.
"I think playing them in the regular season gives us a good idea of who they are and what their strengths are," said Westminster coach Erik Schwartz of the Lions. "And then come regional time we just do our best to take away those strengths."
And those strengths were forwards Morgan Lockwood and Ellie Burzlaff. Westminster (10-8-1) limited the combo to just 1 goal from Burzlaff, but yet again Warriors' midfielder Liz Meschewski had somewhat of a battle-tested fingerprint on the win. Meschewski had been throwing up before the game and was having trouble breathing throughout. But she managed an assist and a key penalty kick in the ninth minute and then Lindsey Vanden Bos and Emily Beachler carried it from there, scoring goals in the second half despite a late Lions' rally.
"The determination we all have, it's been a great run and our regular season hasn't been very good so we wanted to give it our all in regionals," said Meschewski, who fought off a bad hamstring in last year's game. "They just boot it up into empty spaces so we just adjusted to the two games of losing to them. We knew what they were going to do and we shut them down."
Meschewski's penalty kick derived from a long ball sent by Whitney Woodhouse and later a collision with Lions' keeper Rachel Oostdyk in the box as Meschewski tried scoring on a breakaway. Oostdyk came out and made the stop but the call went Westminster's way and Harvest (10-7) was visibly rattled.
"I think our girls were a little taken back by that," Lions coach Jason Acres said. "I think if the referee makes a little bit different call there and we play a little bit smarter there in the (second half) we're right back in this game. But you have to hand it to Westminster, they really desired this game, maybe a little but more than us today."
Westminster made it 2-0 right out of the gate 14 seconds into the second half when Vanden Bos chipped one in off a Meschewski redirect. The real dagger came 6 minutes later when Beachler cashed in on a 40-yard free kick for a 3-0 lead, all byproducts from Woodhouse, who was able to get the ball over the Harvest defense numerous times.
Possession was even and Harvest had chances in the first half. Harvest outshot Westminster 13-9 and hit the crossbar 3 times. Burzlaff cut the lead to 2 when she raced down the left sideline with 28 minutes remaining and lofted one in the back of the net. Sydney Doby's penalty kick with 1:33 left made it 3-2 and Doby almost tied it with 10 seconds left on a shot that was wrapped up by Westminster keeper Savannah Dutcher.
"When they scored that first goal it kind of almost infuriated us because we knew we're a better team that this, we know we can win," Doby said. "And it was really frustrating with how the game played out. When we did finally get to 2, there was a minute left."