ROCHELLE – All game, Burlington Central sent long balls up the field or crosses from the sideline. And for more than 60 minutes Wednesday, Prairie Ridge played stellar defense to keep the Rockets off the scoreboard.
Scoring chances were about even for both teams, but it was the Rockets who finally put one into the back of the net.
Isabella Hartmann sent a cross into the box, and Zoey Kollhoff finished it off for the game’s first score, coming in the 62nd minute. Burlington Central went on to win, 2-0, in the Class 2A Rochelle Sectional semifinals and hand Prairie Ridge (17-1) its first loss.
“I felt that this would be close,” Prairie Ridge coach Andre Watson said. “We were pretty well matched up. They have tons of speed and strength up top and through the middle. I think we weathered the storm."
Circumstances late in the game forced Prairie Ridge to press up on the offensive end, and Burlington Central (22-2) picked up a second goal with 6:38 remaining, again from Kollhoff.
“Isa played a great ball in,” Kollhoff said of her first goal. “I picked my head up and was able to place it in.”
Burlington Central advances to face Crystal Lake South at 4 p.m. Friday in the sectional final. The Rockets finished third at state in Class 2A last season.
Rockets coach Jessica Arneson said her team knew Prairie Ridge was unbeaten but that it “didn’t intimidate us at all.” They were more focused on themselves.
Prairie Ridge had more shots on goal in the first half (six to four). The Wolves had a number of free kick opportunities they simply couldn’t push past Rockets keeper Erin Rafferty.
They continued to press the issue for the first 20 minutes of the second half.
“In other games, we’ve gotten more shots off,” senior captain Emily Perhats said. “This is obviously one of the bigger competitions we’ve had all season. To battle like we did was pretty impressive.”
Prairie Ridge keeper Sam Gablenz made four saves. Rafferty made eight for Burlington Central.
After winning a Class 2A sectional last season, Prairie Ridge set the bar high. Still, only five players returned from 2017.
Enter a solid young group that included seven freshmen and combine it with a tough core of upperclassmen, and the Wolves rattled off 17 straight wins.
“They came together so well right away,” Watson said. “We had a lot of freshmen on the team, and they were in right away with us, accepted right away. It was OK for a freshman to start or whether a senior was coming off the bench.”
Perhats was impressed with the way the team jelled, considering many of them had never played together.
"We only had five girls returning from last year, so we didn’t know how we were going to be," Perhats said. “It didn’t go our way today, but to end the season 17-1 is still really impressive. It was either zero losses or one loss. To end that way is pretty cool for us.”