NAPERVILLE — The day after losing its first game in about two months and seeing its state title dreams snatched, it would have been understandable for the Herscher girls soccer team to throw in the towel during the Tigers’ third-place game against Lisle on Saturday.
But the Tigers rallied back to end their season on a high note, as they defeated their Interstate Eight Conference foes by a 2-1 margin in the IHSA Class 1A State Finals third-place game at North Central College in Naperville.
The trip to state was the third in coach Chris Longtin’s career, with Saturday’s result yielding his highest-ever state finish.
“Having another I-8 school in there and being a public school in the Final Four was huge,” Longtin said. “I already got a fourth-place [trophy], so I needed a third-place one, too.”
It took a while for the Tigers to get things going, however, and the first half of the third-place game looked a lot like the loss that preceded it. The Lions dashed out to an early lead just more than seven minutes into the contest when Madison Manns picked up an unassisted goal to put them up 1-0.
“We were alright coming out; we just fell asleep on one play,” Longtin said. “We gave them a goal, so we had to work a little bit harder.”
Herscher clamped down defensively from that point forward and allowed Lisle very little in the way of scoring opportunities during the course of the match, but the Tigers’ offensive struggles from the day before seemed to carry over into Saturday’s first half.
Lisle maintained its narrow lead into halftime, then held on for another 12 minutes into the second half before Tigers’ star senior Mattie Brown finally broke the stalemate and delivered her squad’s first goal of the championship weekend.
Brown maneuvered her way down the left side of the pitch to set things up, dragging a pair a Lions defenders with her. Once she pulled within striking range, Brown entered an extended battle for possession with both defenders — and somehow came out on top.
The senior knotted things up at one with just under 28 minutes remaining in regulation when she muscled her way free of the double-team, pivoted and sent a laser past the keeper.
The goal went a long way toward revitalizing the Tigers’ attack. While their play on the defensive end maintained its impressive standard, they struck again and sealed the Lions’ fate with just more than 10 minutes left.
It is fitting Herscher’s dream season ended on a collaboration from three of its most indispensable seniors that boosted the score to its final resting place at 2-1.
Brown started things off by rifling one in close to Jillian Milton. Milton put a beauty of a pass out in front of the goal, and Chloe Walsh sent it up and over the keeper to secure the third-place plaque for Herscher.
“I thought Jill was going to get it, but I was just trying to make sure it got in,” Walsh said of her game-winning goal. “Mattie and Jill did a great job setting it all up for me, and I’m just really proud of them and of my whole team.”
The final buzzer not only ended the Tigers’ season, but for its 10 seniors, it also meant the end of their high school careers and also the end of a decade of playing together.
“This whole group has been working together since we were 8, so it means the world to me that we were able to get this win. For ourselves and for Coach Longtin,” Walsh said. “We have the skill, but more than that, we always have heart.
“Over all that time, this is a team that never gave up.”