Soccer coaches sometimes lament the fact that the ball doesn’t bounce their team’s way in a sport where the best team doesn’t always win.
Evanston’s girls benefited from a fortunate bounce Friday night in Northfield on the chilly and wet turf on New Trier’s home field , and earned a chance to play for the championship of the North Shore Invitational tournament.
Avery Ackman’s free kick skidded through the legs of Wheaton St. Francis goalkeeper Courtney Kozak with 54 seconds remaining in regulation and the Wildkits scored a 3-2 semifinal victory over the previously unbeaten Spartans.
Evanston will take a 6-3-2 record into Saturday’s 2:15 p.m. title game against Glenbrook South, which scored a 1-0 overtime triumph over Naperville North in the other semifinal contest.
Ackman scored her second game-winning goal of the season, after moving up to a forward slot even though most of her high school career she’s played on the back line. She started Friday’s game on the bench as head coach Stacy Salgado turned to a defensive unit that features two freshmen, Ruby Rogers and Ryann Lucas, along with Ruby Siegel, Katy Donati and Annika DeStefano.
Ackman, a senior, played major minutes on offense after Vanessa Eljaiek was hit twice in the head on separate plays and spent the entire second half applying an ice pack on the bench.
She struck a shot from just outside the 30-yard line that Kozak probably should have handled, but the lanky keeper didn’t drop down quickly enough to get a hand on the 1-hop shot.
Ackman’s tally came after teammate Kat Seghal had tied the contest at 2-2 in the 74th minute.
“The ball was still moving (due to a strong northerly wind at her back) and the referee wasn’t happy that I kept trying to stop the ball (prior to the shot),” Ackman said. “I thought it was just like any other shot and that she’d saved it. But we played so hard tonight and I thought we should have scored earlier.
“After we tied the score we did something we don’t usually do, and that’s put more forwards (3) up so we could get numbers. We had a more aggressive mindset when we did that, and it feels awesome to make it to the championship game. We went through a little dip earlier in the season, but now I think we’re getting it back together.”
“Avery’s always been a defender, but she adds another element for us on offense and we needed more numbers outside,” said Salgado. “She has great touch on the ball and we needed another playmaker. She knows the game and she brings the spark that we need. Even when she played defense, she was always the one who pushed up when we needed that. She’s a very smart player and she has great vision out there.
“Any time you can get to a championship game it’s a big accomplishment. We try to tell the girls all the time that if you shoot, anything can happen. We’ll take what we got tonight.”
Ackman also played a role in Seghal’s game-tying goal, a score that chilled the Spartans and gave the winners new life.
“I saw that Avery was going to make a cross and I just ran up to get there,” Seghal said. “The ball deflected off someone and came perfectly to me. That goal definitely gave us the momentum to keep playing hard. At the end of the game we found some different connections and really played cohesively.”
Eljaiek’s goal, also on a restart, in the first two minutes gave the Wildkits an early 1-0 edge. But St. Francis standout Hannah Rittenhouse countered with a pair of scores of her own, the first coming in the 16th minute and the second in the 56th minute for a 2-1 Spartan advantage.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.