Girls soccer: Crystal Lake Central survives Lake Forest in penalty kicks to reach 3rd straight sectional final

Brooklyn Carlson took a deep breath, closed her eyes and envisioned what was about to happen as she stood in front of the net at Deerfield’s Paul Adam Field.

But before she shot the final penalty kick in Wednesday’s Class 2A Deerfield Sectional semifinal, Carlson glanced over to her Crystal Lake Central teammate Addison Cleary. When their eyes met as Cleary stood at the side of the net, she gave Carlson a final nod of reassurance.

Carlson slowly shuffled toward the ball before striking it to the left past Lake Forest goalkeeper Sarah Constatine’s diving reach. Carlson ran back and jumped in the air before her teammates mobbed her in celebration.

The Tigers found a way to beat the Scouts 2-1 after winning the penalty kicks 4-3. They advance to their third straight sectional championship.

“You never know, all games are different,” Carlson said. “It was exciting to take this win, especially winning in a standout way.”

Carlson’s heroics were set up by an impressive start to the penalty kicks by Cleary. She stopped both of the Scouts’ first two attempts before allowing their final three attempts.

Central seniors Paiton Hulata and Olivia Anderson and sophomore Peyton McMahon made the Tigers’ first three attempts before Constatine stopped senior Jillian Mueller’s attempt.

Cleary had confidence Carlson would finish the win after she helped put Central (19-2-2) in a strong spot.

“I just wanted to do my part, kind of early, make a big save to kind of take the pressure off, knowing that we’re shooting second,” Cleary said. “Just attacking a side and going for it.”

The semifinal went into a shootout despite Central’s strong control of the match. The Tigers had some strong chances for much of the first half, but the Scouts did a good job of closing out defensively to stop Central from finishing its attempts.

Central finally broke through when Mueller recovered the ball off a corner kick and shot it at the net. The ball snuck in off a tough angle to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead with 9:43 left in the first half.

“It was awesome to see her get a goal there,” Central coach Sarah Fack said.

The Tigers held on to the lead early in the second half before Lake Forest’s Madelyn Cummins scored off a scramble in front of the net with 30:18 left in the match.

Central kept attacking but couldn’t find a way to score. The Tigers had 10 shots on goal throughout the match and forced Constantine to make nine saves. The Scouts finished with five shots on goal and Cleary had four saves.

“That’s what the playoffs are all about, teams playing at their best,” Fack said. “Although we didn’t necessarily get all of our shots to fall, we got quality shots, a lot of opportunities, we played as a team, had some fun. Thankfully we got the win at the end and we’re still going.”

Central will play Vernon Hills on Friday after the Cougars also won their semifinal in penalty kicks. The Tigers will try to win their second straight sectional title.

The Tigers have had plenty of experience to rely on as they try to return to the state finals for a second straight season. But Wednesday was a nice reminder that they have what it takes in order to get back.

“We’re fine with PKs, we’re fine with overtime, we’re fine being tied with a team then scoring,” Carlson said. “We’re ready for anything that comes our way.”

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