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Stormy night thing of beauty for Saints

St. Charles East's Amanda Hilton (left) gets the ball away from St. Charles North's Lizzie Parrilli during their sectional semifinal game Tuesday at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates.
St. Charles East's Amanda Hilton (left) gets the ball away from St. Charles North's Lizzie Parrilli during their sectional semifinal game Tuesday at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates.

HOFFMAN ESTATES – It took 3 1/2 hours of real time, waiting out a thunderstorm that gave way to a gorgeous double rainbow and enduring a physical, injury-riddled showdown, but finally, the St. Charles East girls soccer team has beaten St. Charles North.

And what a spot for the Saints to do so.

East triumped in a drawn-out IHSA Class 3A Conant Sectional semifinal battle Tuesday to defeat top-seeded St. Charles North, 2-1, in what is believed to be East's first win in the rivalry series since the first year after St. Charles High School split.

The Saints have had a few close calls – including settling for a tie after leading North most of the way during this year's regular season meeting – but the Saints finally solved their crosstown nemesis. East senior Shannon Rasmussen said the Saints of the past would arrive at North matchups early and "make it a huge deal."

"This year we decided to take it like a regular game," Rasmussen said. "We didn't get pumped up or anything. We just decided to stay confident, act like it's a normal game and go out there and do our thing instead of worrying about who we're playing. It was about us instead of them this year, and I think that's what helped us a lot."

The fourth-seeded Saints (16-4-2) advance to face the winner of tonight's Geneva-Conant sectional semifinal on Friday. The Geneva-Conant match was supposed to be played Tuesday night but coaches from both teams agreed to move it back a day since it would have turned into a late-night affair, given the weather delay of almost two hours.

East coach Paul Jennison was elated about his team's performance – and his first win over North in his six-year tenure – though his postgame joy was dampened by a pair of injuries to Rion Gaffney and Hannah Rawson, both of which came after the re-start with 17:41 to go in the second half.

Jennison didn't blame the injuries on the lengthy wait.

"I think it's just the chance of it's soccer, collisions happen, accidents happen," Jennison said. "That is what it is when you play the game. I hope those two are going to be alright because they're quality girls. I hate to see that happen to any player but especially when they're your own, and two seniors as well. That's heartbreaking."

The match went into the lightning delay with East ahead, 2-1. All three goals came in the first half.

East took control with two scores less than six minutes apart, the first coming on a low, well-struck shot from about 35 yards out by East midfielder Kelli Santo Paulo off Amanda Hilton's assist.

"Amanda always sees me on that run," Santo Paulo said. "She always plays me those balls. We work so well together in the middle."

The Saints struck again with 14:39 to play in the half on Rasmussen's long free kick for a 2-0 lead. It was Rasmussen's first goal off a free kick this season.

"We actually had a practice the other day but I stayed after to work on those," Rasmussen said. "[Jennison] just said hit far post, so that's what I was trying to do. It was close enough for me to take a shot instead of hoping to cross it in so I just hit it far post, and it went in, luckily."

Toledo-bound North senior Sophie Pohl injected the North Stars (17-5-2) with a dose of optimism leading into halftime. Pohl brought North within 2-1 with 9:32 to go in the first half with a sliding finish of Hanna Durocher's assist.

Durocher came close to tying the score at the 21:40 mark of the second half but her point-blank shot went just wide. The North Stars also had a few decent chances against East's packed-in defense after the resumption, with Jenny Barr, Alyssa Brandt and Lizzie Parrilli all cracking dangerous shots, though only Brandt's free kick required a stop from East goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan.

Several North Stars sobbed during and after a lengthy postgame chat with veteran North coach Ruth Vostal.

"I am thrilled that they are this sad because all of the team-building stuff that we've done to bring them together, which makes them fight, has worked," Vostal said. 

North lost a key defender late in the first half when senior Megan O'Leary hobbled off with an injury and the North Stars were also without injured senior Danielle Noverini.

Both teams emerged energized after the long, tense delay. The North Stars desperately wanted the match to resume or East would have been declared the winner.

Santo Paulo said the Saints explored YouTube for some goosebump-inducing, motivational speeches during the break.

"They sent one in our group chat earlier and not everyone got to see it, so we played that one, and it really described our team and it really pumped us up to come back out here," Santo Paulo said.

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