A quick goal for the Vernon Hills girls soccer team provided a spark opening up the Class 2A regional semifinals.
The Cougars scored in the opening minute, then followed up with another later as Natalie Orozco and Haley Lieberman both found the back of the net.
Sixth-seeded Vernon Hills blanked No. 11 Wauconda 2-0 in a regional semifinal hosted by the Cougars on Wednesday night. No. 3 seed St. Viator shut out No. 14 Regina 5-0 in the other semifinal.
St. Viator (11-6-3) meets Vernon Hills (13-5-2) in the regional final at 6 p.m. Friday.
The Cougars stuck to their game plan with the ultra-quick first strike against Wauconda.
"We talked about putting the game away in the first 10 minutes," Vernon Hills coach Vince DeLuca said. "That's what I thought we would do -- and we scored in the first minute. I think they misunderstood me.
"We started off like we wanted to, but we missed some chances and let Wauconda settle in. We did come out with a lot of passion in the second half and created a lot of chances. We just started playing with a little more confidence."
Vernon Hills was playing Wauconda (8-10-1) for the second this season and had a battle on its hands for the entire 80 minutes.
"Wauconda was a good team to go against," DeLuca said. "They will be a good team for next year. They're strong, young and have a lot of talent."
Orozco scored her fifth goal of the season 47 seconds into the game for the Cougars. Kaitlin Gramins served the ball, and Orozco finished for a 1-0 advantage.
"This year, we've done so well," Orozco said. "We got our heads into the game and were focused, into it. We are determined to work our hardest out there."
Lieberman scored the second Cougars goal in the 57th minute, her eighth of the season, with an assist from Katherine Brettmann.
Wauconda has been on the road all season long, as their home field is being converted to artificial turf. But the Bulldogs had a lot of fight in them throughout the match against Vernon Hills.
"It would've been nice to have at least one home game," said Alyssa Stepanian, a senior defender who will be playing soccer at Knox College in the fall. "I still thought we had a pretty good season. I thought (Vernon Hills) was much bettter passing than we were. They were much better toward the goal and were more aggressive."
The Bulldogs will lose a couple of seniors, but return with many young players who got some great experience this spring.
"All season, I thought the girls were ahead from where I thought they would be," Wauconda coach Patrick Heckmann said. "We're already looking toward next season. We've got something here and we want to keep it going."
• In the other semifinal, St, Viator scored four times in the first half and added another goal in the second for its 5-0 victory over Regina (7-6-5). Maria Petrillo, Kayne Stanley, Lauren Kohn, Susie Moynihan and Michelle Trovato each scored goals.
St. Viator hadn't played a game in a week and didn't quite play the game that coach Mike Taylor wanted to see.
"We won, but it was an ugly game and we didn't play well," Taylor said. "We didn't play smart to begin with and missed some opportunities. Just disappointed -- you have to be sharper."