All-state defender Corey Burns delivered a crucial second-period header that found the back of the net and helped dash the hopes of coach Mike Castronova's Lake Zurich Bears on Saturday.
Burns' timely play in the 47th minute came off a corner from teammate Tori Iatarola, as Loyola earned a 1-0 triumph over the Bears (5-4-1) in the final pool-play match of the Naperville girls soccer invitational played at regional host Barrington.
The victory enabled the Ramblers (12-1-0) to earn a hard-fought berth in Thursday's semifinals against Barrington, which won its group play after defeating St. Charles East.
"We met two high-profile teams in group play this weekend, and despite losing to Boylan last night, then Loyola today, we found out we compete with the best, and that will be important for us as we go forward," said Castronova, who lost his top player, Ohio State-bound Vanessa Abad, to an ankle injury just four minutes before Burns delivered what proved to be the game-winner.
"We struggled a little bit to find our game after losing Vanessa, but I thought in the final 15 minutes of regulation, we put them under pressure and created some good stuff. But we just were not sharp enough in the last 20 yards or so to put some quality shots on their keeper."
During the early stages, the Ramblers enjoyed the run of play by finding sensational sophomore striker Kathryn Cichon, who was set free in the Bears' end thanks to some impressive work from the freshman duo of Devin Burns and Shannon Power in the middle.
Cichon fired just wide of the post on three separate occasions in the first quarter hour, then watched teammate Devin Burns stopped point-blank on a save by Bears keeper Eleanor Daleske.
"We probably should have put one or two of those chances into the back of the net to take control of the game, but our earlier game with Boylan -- which went 100 minutes before we won -- and a strong effort from Lake Zurich really took a lot out of us as the game wore on," said Loyola coach Craig Snower, who led his club to a 24-1-1 record last season before the Ramblers fell in the sectionals.
The Bears finally find their form, thanks in part to the back-line efforts of Grace Eisenhuth, Meagan Bens, Maggie Tuckey and Courtney Kehrmann. The quartet tightened things up and, at times, provided some forward momentum to the Bears' attack.
Cichon's blast from a tough angle forced Daleske to make a save but concede a corner kick. Burns was unmarked in the box and delivered her eighth goal of the season past a helpless Daleske.
Blair Coughenour, Meaghan Gelinas and Madeline Blasko gave the Bears some pace and energy in search of the equalizer -- but Ramblers alll-state keeper San Roman recorded the shutout.
"Even when we started to show fatigue, we played hard, right up until the end, and that's all you can really ask for against an opponent like Loyola," Castronova said.