Top seed Buffalo Grove ended the postseason dreams of Stevenson's girls soccer team by booking a spot in Friday's Libertyville sectional final with a 2-1 victory over the No. 14 seed Patriots on Tuesday in Libertyville.
The Bison (22-2-3) now must wait another day to find who out their opponent is, after dangerous weather postponed the second scheduled match Tuesday between Barrington and Lake Zurich. That contest is now scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
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Coach Pat Dudle's Buffalo Grove team started this semifinal with plenty of offensive intent, forcing the Patriots to defend most of the opening quarter-hour before the Bison' technical proficiency came to the fore when Kelli Zickert led the charge by steering her one-timer past a diving Maddy Boutros just 11 minutes into the match.
"We came out and played scared against one of the top teams in the state, and one that can play so fast and with great possession," said Stevenson coach Kevin Hefferman, who after serving as Mark Schartner's long-time assistant, took over this spring to do a marvelous job keeping an injury-plagued club above water during the regular season before shocking No. 4 seed Hersey in a regional opener and then NSC rival Libertyville to get into the sectional semifinals. "Once we settled in, we began to play the way I know we can. And we made a game of it late and played as hard as we could, right until the end."
The Bison had far too much pace and energy from the get-go, and with Skylar Groth, Jessica Kovach and Sara Busse each taking turns prying open the Patriots' defensive scheme, Zickert helped BG dominate the early proceedings.
If not for two terrific efforts from Haley Green, who parried two shot off the endline, and some superb work by Boutros, who excelled in the final match of her prep career, the Bison surely could have built a 3-0 advantage before intermission.
"We came out so well after sitting around for over two hours while the weather cleared, and created some very good opportunities," said Dudle. "But we didn't finish like we can, and that's something we'll have to get better at if we hope to continue on through the playoffs."
Boutros turned away Zickert on two occasions before the senior finished a lovely helper from Maria Hamilton in between the clearing efforts from Green.
Boutros saved her best of the match about five minutes after the break with a fearless point-blank stop on Groth, who'd tricked her way into the box.
"Maddy was fantastic tonight -- she made a couple of saves that helped us stay in the game until we got ourselves going," said Heffernan.
The pattern of the play appeared to inspire the Patriots after the Boutros save, as Stevenson got much more energy from Lily Zhang, Emma Jaeger, Savannah Kruse and McKenzie Connington.
However, after a well-judged pass from Groth, Sarah O'Connor, recently back in form after suffering a concussion, took the ball in stride, and lashed it into the opposite corner, just off the outstretched gloves of Boutros in the 62nd minute.
Heffernan added another striker to go with four up top in an effort to generate more in the attack, and nine minutes later, Green, after collecting a quality ball from Zhang, turned and fired from 25 yards to bring the Patriots back into the match.
The Patriots (7-11-3) came with numbers for the final 10 minutes in search of the equalizer. Despite a valiant effort, Stevenson was unable to break the resistance of the Bison backline.
"We obviously didn't want to get into a situation like we did, but we put ourselves back into the game we want to be in this Friday, and that is what is most important," said Kovach.
Stevenson is left to reflect on a close call, and a very bright future.
"The girls had a great run here at the end," said Heffernan, "and although we're going to miss 11 seniors from this club, we still have a terrific core of young players coming back next season, and that is something we can all look forward to."