SCHAUMBURG – All Renee Unterberg had to do was score.
As the senior stepped up to the penalty spot as St. Charles East’s final shooter, the task was simple: Finding the back of the net, and send her Saints past Conant and into the sectional championship game.
“It’s my senior year," Unterberg said, "and I knew this was not going to be where it ended."
While admittedly knowing what lied on her shoulders as she heard the whistle blow, Unterberg calmly saw her shot hit the back of the net to clinch the 0-0 (3-2 in PKs) victory for East.
The clinching kick was the second of the season from the penalty spot for Unterberg, who also converted the game-winner against Neuqua Valley at the Naperville Invite.
The win for the Saints (23-5) set up a crosstown showdown against St. Charles North (18-1-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday for the Class 3A Schaumburg Sectional title. East will be attempting to prevent the North Stars from winning a fourth consecutive sectional crown, while also trying to capture its first since 2014.
While it was Unterberg who had the clinching score Tuesday night, it was goalkeeper Grace Griffin who came up with a save on Conant’s first penalty kick of the shootout to grab the momentum.
Elle McCaslin and Alondra Carranza gave the Saints a 2-0 advantage through two rounds after Conant’s second shot sailed wide. But as quickly as that momentum was gained, the Cougars (16-3-2) snatched it right back.
Conversions from Conant seniors Jess Smeltzer and Alyssa Brand, combined with two East misses, knotted the score at 2-2 through four rounds.
Griffin just kept telling herself to believe on her abilities from the very first kick against.
“We have practiced (penalty kicks) a lot leading up to the postseason,” said Griffin, who was not forced to make a save in regulation or either overtime period. “so I have gotten pretty good at reading the kickers. I also have a lot of confidence in myself, but also in my teammates. I know they have my back and I was doing everything I could to have theirs.”
“PK’s are fun when you win,” Griffin added with a laugh.
Although the Saints did a good job of keeping Conant away from Griffin, who did everything she could to stay loose as the night went on and temperatures continued to drop, East had all the confidence in the world that if Tuesday’s match ended in penalty kicks, it liked its chances.
“We have all the confidence in the world in Grace,” McCaslin said. “Something about the way it started, I just had this feeling she was going to stop that first one and gets us going. We did our thing as shooters and got the job done.”
East coach Vince DiNuzzo thought his team controlled much of the flow of play Tuesday. While his team escaped what he called a “nerve-racking” shootout, he knows it is going to have to score some goals to top its crosstown rival in North on Saturday.
The Saints have lost twice to North this season – both 2-1 defeats in April.
“On a different day, I think we finish a lot more of those opportunities,” DiNuzzo said. “We have another great team waiting for us and we know we’re going to have to be at our very best to win that game. It says a lot about the ability and culture of soccer in this town to have both teams make runs this far. It’s exciting and we’re looking forward to it.”
Despite the two losses to the North Stars this season, the penalty kick hero didn’t have a shade of worry about their rival.
“I can’t wait. We’re all so excited,” Unterberg said. “A crosstown rival for the sectional championship and I think we have a real shot to beat them… We’re coming for them.”