Going with what you know can pay dividends, even when it's tempting to try something different. Just ask the St. Francis girls soccer team.
After giving up a goal in the first 89 seconds Tuesday of a Class 2A sectional semifinal against Nazareth Academy, and managing few scoring opportunities the remainder of the first half, there might have been the temptation for Spartans coach Jim Winslow to change things up a bit.
But sticking to the game plan resulted in four goals in 20 minutes midway through the second half that was just enough to topple top-seeded Nazareth in a game played in the rain at Elmhurst College.
The fourth-seeded Spartans advanced to the sectional final at 5 p.m. Friday at Elmhurst College against second-seeded Hinsdale South, which beat Benet in the other semifinal.
"We said, stick to what we do," said Winslow, whose team improved to 11-5-3.
"In the second half it was just play. Be composed. In the second half it was just a matter of, get one. I kind of felt like if we could get one, we'd get a bunch more."
That's exactly what happened. The scoring fun started for St. Francis in the 47th minute when junior forward Hannah Rittenhouse took a pass in the upper left corner of the 18-yard box, turned and fired a shot into the right corner of the net, past Nazareth goalkeeper Mary Clare Harrington.
After a goal a minute later from junior forward Erin Peck, Rittenhouse scooped up a shot from junior forward Kendra Pasquale in the 58th minute that dribbled away from Harrington and dropped it into the right corner of the net.
But perhaps the most important goal of the evening was Pasquale's from distance in the 67th minute. Why? Nazareth scored twice in the final seven minutes to make things interesting, and even had two opportunities from senior forward Claire Ramsey in the 78th minute that were thwarted -- the first a breakaway shot that was corralled by Spartans junior goalkeeper Cortney Kosak.
"We just said we had a rough first five minutes, that's when they got their goal, we just had to come back and play as hard as we could," Kosak said.
"High intensity," Rittenhouse added. "Go after them. We could compete with them and we did in the second half a ton. I think we needed the team momentum building up and the positivity and just really going at it."
Despite a flurry of second-half shots, including a pair of near-misses in the last three minutes, Benet fell to Hinsdale South 2-0 in the other Class 2A sectional semifinal. The Redwings finished their season 14-7-1.
"If we would have played like we did in the second half the first half, this would have been a different game," Benet coach Gerard Oconer said. "The difference is, at the beginning of the first half, they capitalized on their chances. We missed just wide on so many, and their goalkeeper is very good so she just smothered everything."