The third-seeded Burlington Central girls soccer team may have come back from a 2-goal deficit to beat No. 2 Sycamore 4-3 in a Class 2A regional semifinal Wednesday, but the comeback win can really be labeled directly as a more defiant victory than anything else on Rocket Hill.
The Rockets (11-7-2) were battle-tested throughout. Not only were they dealt a revenge factor since Sycamore won last year's Class 2A regional final 1-0, but after Central went down 2-0 and then up 4-2 thanks to Cali Andrew's 3-goal explosion in the first half, the Rockets had to endure a relentless attack from Sycamore for the final 40 minutes and a fatigue bug like no other.
"It was really hot and tiring," Andrew said. "We all knew we had to keep our head in the game so we could move on to regional finals and we just stuck with it and hoped for the best."
Sycamore (11-5-3) completely dominated possession in the second half, outshooting the Rockets 13-3 and 24-9 overall. And besides a few early shots in the second half, Central didn't really clear the ball over the midfield till the last minute of the match, where the Rockets were noticeably exhausted and hanging on the ropes as would a boxer.
But through the fatigue, the near-misses from Sycamore and so much more, the Rockets moved into Friday's 6 p.m. regional final against No. 1 DeKalb, which ousted No. 4 Hampshire 1-0 in Wednesday's first game.
"It was up to them to dig deep and they did," Rockets coach Massimo Piscopo said. "I knew the girls would do it. We've been doing this all season; we get behind. We chase the ball. And that's when it seems like we play the best soccer. And I guess that's what Burlington's signature is this year."
Those Rockets' autographs, besides Andrew's hat trick, were from Darlene Valdez, who knotted the game at 2 with her only goal, Alyssa Messina, who had 2 assists and Cassie Ciganek and Anna McMahon, who each had 1 assists. Abbi Ciganek managed 7 saves and all but 1 came in the second half. But it would have been easy for Central to give up right out of the gate.
The Spartans' Amy Schroeder found the side of the net near the right post off a rebound just 36 seconds into the game for a 1-0 lead and it took Sycamore just 3 minutes to get a 2-0 lead from Alyssa Hemmerich's boot.
But that all changed once Andrew received a through ball from Cassie Ciganek in the midfield, which Andrew broke free and made it 2-1 with 33:20 left on the clock. Valdez chipped a redirect from Messina with 19 minutes remaining in the half and then Andrew's goals with 13 minutes and 9 minutes left on the clock capped 4-straight for Burlington and a 4-2 lead.
"I knew we just had to keep picking it up, getting insurance goals and just keep playing our game," Andrew said. "We just kept saying 'come out with intensity, we need to pick it up.' We did that, and that's all we needed to do."
A crazy first half ended with Hemmerich's second goal with 3 minutes left. But that was the last of the scoring for either team as all 7 goals came in the first 40. Then came the last 40.
"They came back strong, we know that they had a lot of defenders so it was hard for us to get up and get our attack moving," Messina said. "We just tried to filter the ball as best as we can."
Sycamore coach Dave Lichamer wanted to get out on the Rockets early after a 3-2 to loss to the Central in the Freeport tournament earlier this season.
"They scored on us before when we were at Freeport -- they were going to score on us," said Lichamer, whose team couldn't connect on any of its 13 second-half shots. "If you can't put it in the big rectangle you're not going to win the game. Shots on goal don't matter, saves don't matter, it's what the end result is."
Hampshire played top-seeded DeKalb tough in the first game before letting up a second-half goal that proved to be the difference.
"This was a tough loss for us," said Hampshire coach Sara O'Toole. "We kept up with them the whole game after coming out slow in the first half."
Kaila Kienzler had 11 saves in goal for the Whip-Purs (4-13-1).
"Kaila kept us in the game and for being a first-year goalie, she did a tremendous job all year of filling that role. We are losing one senior and we are definitely looking forward to next year."
John Radtke contributed to this report