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Girls Soccer: Jill DiTusa, St. Francis headed back to state

Spartans top Benet 1-0 on Hannah Rittenhouse's 23rd goal

St. Francis' Jill Ditusa, center, and Emma Armbrust, right, attempt to keep the ball away from the net during a game against visiting Loyola Academy on May 7.
St. Francis' Jill Ditusa, center, and Emma Armbrust, right, attempt to keep the ball away from the net during a game against visiting Loyola Academy on May 7.

DARIEN – Jill DiTusa witnessed the St. Francis girls soccer team’s only state championship in 2012.

Older sister Jenna was the Spartans’ starting goalkeeper.

“I was in the stands at state. I remember the entire thing like it was yesterday,” said DiTusa, a junior defender.

DiTusa and a veteran St. Francis lineup is out to repeat history. The Spartans earned their second trip to the Class 2A state semifinals in three seasons by beating rival Benet 1-0 at the Hinsdale South Supersectional Tuesday.

St. Francis (16-4-3) will play at 11 a.m. Friday at North Central College against Lemont (24-1), which took fourth at state last year.

“The best feeling. I’m on cloud nine right now. Today was nothing shy of great,” said St. Francis senior midfielder Claire Hensley. “As a senior, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. Honestly, every game could be my last ever with these girls. Enjoying every moment is what I’m trying to do."

Junior Hannah Rittenhouse scored the lone goal just 7:22 into the game off a right-wing cross by senior Erin Peck.

The teams combined for just six shots on goal. The Spartans’ defense limited quality attempts by the Redwings (20-4-1) but was pressed late, especially after senior forward Kendra Pasquale was lost for the final 24:04 to an apparent right collarbone injury. Pasquale, though, said she expects to play Friday.

Senior goalkeeper Courtney Kozak, who made two saves, and the defensive line of DiTusa, senior Christine Fasana, junior Emma Armbrust, senior Alex Preusser and freshman Katherine Lemke, who split time, earned the Spartans’ fourth shutout in the last five games.

“It wasn’t that bad of a first half and then we got halfway through the second half. Every ball was bouncing over the back. It was just run and chase, keep it out of the 18 [crease] and hope for the best,” DiTusa said. “It’s so great to make it this far. And then especially beating Benet, that’s always a big rival. That’s super great.”

Scoring on Benet was no easy task. The Redwings had 16 shutouts in setting a single-season school record for victories and outscored their first four postseason opponents 23-0.

Fewer than three minutes into the game, St. Francis junior Caroline Zimmer put a blast off the crossbar. When Peck shot along the right wing, the ball was knocked back to her by a defender. Peck then crossed through the crease 10 yards out and Pasquale allowed it to roll between her legs to Rittenhouse. Open along the left post, Rittenhouse converted her team-high 23rd goal this season.

“[Pasquale] knew I was right there," Rittenhouse said. "We have this vision when we’re on the field. I had a feeling it was coming so I just had to be ready.”

Pasquale (Illinois), Hensley (St. Bonaventure), Peck (Illinois Wesleyan), Rittenhouse (Iowa recruit), DiTusa and senior defensive midfielder Kaitlyn Joniak also started for the 2016 team that finished fourth at state.

“I think almost every practice we just talk about how we need to practice like we’re going to make it to state and prove that we’re good enough to win this year,” Peck said.

Could this be the Spartans’ year? The 2012 team also advanced to state by beating Benet at the supersectional.

“Last season was a tough one. It was stressful because we knew we could have gone to state,” DiTusa said. “But it also makes you come out stronger the next season.”

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