HERSCHER — When it comes to girls soccer, locally, Herscher usually tends to find itself playing later into the postseason than most.
The Tigers entered Friday’s IHSA Class 1A Herscher Regional championship against Bishop McNamara as winners of six-straight regionals, but didn’t seem to feel any pressure of keeping the streak alive, which helped them play a composed, supportive game that gave them a 3-0 victory over the Fightin’ Irish for their seventh-straight regional crown.
“We worked well together tonight,” Herscher coach Chris Longtin said. “We knew we would have to play on and be supportive of one another and work together in order to be successful.”
The Tigers immediately jumped out to a 1-0 lead 6 minutes into the postseason match when senior midfielder Jalynn Miner dished out a corner kick pass to junior Hailey King, who quickly realized she had plenty of space before firing off a score that landed in the upper left side of the goalpost.
“I saw that I had a ton of open space, and when I looked at the goal, there was nobody coming at me,” King said of her score. “The left side had a wide open spot where nobody was, and so I aimed there and kicked it.”
The junior defender noted that once she scored, she believed the Fightin’ Irish realized they had their hands full.
“I think McNamara wasn’t expecting us to be as good as we actually were,” King said. “So, to get a goal so early on, I think they expected us to be at the same skill level as they were, and so I think it put a ton of pressure on them to feel like they had to do much better, which normally brings your play down.”
As strong of a start the Tigers had in the opening minutes, the goalkeeper play by both squads — Rourke Zigrossi, of Herscher, and Savana Smith, of McNamara — was strong enough to deny any more scores throughout the first half, leaving the home squad to take a one goal lead into halftime.
After Herscher controlled the ball for a majority of the first half, Bishop McNamara started to find a groove by totaling five shots on goal in the second half, including two that barely missed becoming goals. The Irish’s best chance to tie things up at one each came when senior midfielder Halle Nugent was denied by Zigrossi on back-to-back attempts from within about five yards out of the goalpost with only 14 minutes remaining in the match.
“I don’t even know if you could measure the impact of those two saves by Zigrossi ... her play was fantastic” Longtin said. “Sometimes, you almost get an idea that she was going to have a good game, and, today, I had a hunch that she would.
“When she steps up, it’s big for us and she saved us from having to work extra hard.”
Not even a full minute after Zigrossi’s incredible defense in net, Katelyn Borschnack managed to score off an assist by Ally Meyer to help give the home team a much needed insurance score.
“I think Herscher is the cream of the crop within the local area based off who we’ve played this year,” Bishop McNamara head coach Chuck Goranson said. “I thought we had a good game plan, and we hung with them for a long time.
“There were a couple of transitional moments that I think if we would have capitalized then the outcome might have been different, but once it got to 2-0, it got tougher.”
Eight minutes later, Elise Kukuck added the finishing touches to the regional crown victory by adding the teams’ final score of the evening at the 74-minute mark.
With the shutout loss in the regional championship the Fightin’ Irish season concluded with a 5-9 overall record, but don’t expect that record to be similar come the 2023 season according to coach Goranson.
“It was great to get one postseason win this season,” Goranson said. “We have 10 freshmen on this team and only four seniors, so outside of four players, we’ll be returning everybody next season, and I think we are going to re-establish ourselves and be good for the next several years.”
Zigrossi recorded the shutout behind the net with 12 saves to lead the Tigers. King, Borschnack and Kukuck had one score each. Jalynn Miner, Ally Meyer and Borschnack had one assist each.
Smith totaled 13 saves behind the net to lead the Irish.
Herscher (17-4) will advance to the IHSA Class 1A Sectional semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Manteno, where the Tigers will play the winner of Saturday’s regional title match between Chicago Christian and Gage Park.