WOODSTOCK — The Kaneland girls soccer team made a strong second-half push against top seed Crystal Lake Central in the Class 2A Woodstock North Regional final on Friday.
But it wasn't enough.
Tigers' sophomore forward Emma Bolanowski's two-goal effort helped give the Tigers a 2-1 win and their first regional championship since 2009, and just their second in program history.
It left the fourth-seeded Knights (10-10-1) to ponder what might have been.
"One bounce or deflection our way here or there, and it's just as easily us standing out there celebrating with that plaque," Kaneland coach Scott Parillo said. "But that's just the way the ball bounces sometimes. I was really proud of our effort."
The Tigers (17-3) struck first just over 17 minutes into the match, when senior Taylor Bittenbender's left-footed blast from about 30 yards away seemed to catch Kaneland goalkeeper Emma Ball off-guard. The ball accelerated rapidly, then kept gaining elevation as it hooked right to left toward the upper left corner of the net, over the head and outstretched arms of Ball.
Central made it 2-0 shortly before halftime, when junior Grace Anderson drew a foul just feet from the Kaneland net. Bolanowski then converted the ensuing penalty kick, which was also toward the upper left part of the goal.
"We sort of had to chase the lead at that point, and that's not exactly the most enviable position to be in, obviously," Parillo said.
But Kaneland refused to give in. Five minutes into the second half, Knights senior Grace Purcell beat Tigers goalkeeper Nora Ryan low to the right side of the net, cutting Central's advantage to 2-1.
"After halftime, I thought we adjusted nicely," Parillo said. "Early-on, we were standing around spectating a little too much, and letting the play come to us, rather than taking it to them."
After being outshot 5-3 in the first half, the Knights returned the favor, outshooting the Tigers 7-3 in the second half. But it was too little too late. Bolanowski scored again for Central with five seconds left in the match, when she headed Grace Rokos' centering pass in, capping the scoring.
It was Bolanowski's fourth goal in her last two games. Defensively, Central's back line of Ellie Montford, Abbey Kramer, Kennedy Kruse and Madeline Andersonlimited the quality of Kaneland's opportunities.
"Our goal was to push the ball to the perimeter so they wouldn't have any easy shots at Nora in goal," Montford said. "Collectively, we did a really solid job of accomplishing that goal."
Parillo thanked his team, especially his seniors, who gave so much to the program.
"Most of our seniors were four-year varsity players, so they were the face of the team," Parillo said. "I can't thank them enough for their hard work. We played some great teams this year. So we felt we were prepared.
"Just for whetever reason, we couldn't put the ball in the back of the net against a really good team today."
Crystal Lake Central advances to face Boylan in a Hampshire Sectional semifinal on Tuesday at 5 p.m. They didn't face them during the regular season.