Evanston’s soccer team had second-seeded Loyola Academy on the ropes in the 2nd half Wednesday night in the semifinals of the Maine South Sectional tournament.

But the Wildkits couldn’t deliver the knockout blow.

Instead, the Ramblers advanced to the sectional title game with a 2-1 victory and ended Evanston’s season at 19-7. Loyola will face New Trier, a 1-0 winner over St. Ignatius, in the championship game Friday.

The Wildkits doubled last season’s win total and posted the most victories for the program since ETHS’ state championship squad went 27-0-2 in 2002.

After freshman Maia Cella’s goal with 12 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in regulation cut the Loyola lead in half, ETHS cranked up the offensive pressure even more. Cella created another scoring chance when she was tripped by a defender, but Loyola goalie Lauren Smith saved a restart blast from senior co-captain Ryan Berkley in the 75th minute.

And even in the final seconds, the Wildkits refused to quit. Morgan Muno’s through ball resulted in a corner kick with about 25 seconds to play, but Alex Berkley rushed the attempt and Smith picked it off to end the game.

“I’m proud of the way we played today. We’ll walk out of here with our heads up,” said Evanston second-year head coach Maurizio Grillo. “We played the No. 5 ranked team in the state pretty tough. This is who we are, and this is who we’re gonna be from now on. I expect us to be here (sectional semis) in the years to come now. Our expectations are going to be higher, especially with the players we have coming up.

“There were some little details tonight that happened because we’re still a young team (only 7 seniors will leave the program). I’m already looking forward to next season.”

Evanston couldn’t get untracked offensively in the first half after leading scorer Muno (18 goals) suffered an ankle injury and missed the last 25 minutes of the half.

“I think it was a shock for all of us when Morgan got injured, because it looked pretty severe,” the coach said. “But I thought she played a fantastic game in the second half. She was our engine the last 2 years, and I’m going to miss her.”

Trailing 1-0, the Wildkits had a chance to pull even, only to miss by inches when Cella lined a shot off the crossbar in the 50th minute. On the rebound, a try by Jane Zunamon trickled wide of the net.

Four minutes later, Loyola (22-2-1) countered with a goal by Tori Iatorola to match the first-half score by star forward Devin Burns.

The Wildkits finally broke through after Alex Berkley’s shot was blocked out of bounds, producing a corner kick. Cella headed the ball into the back of the net following the boot by Muno, for the freshman’s 15th goal of the spring, and the energized Kits had new life.

But that was the last tally of the season, as it turned out.

Both Loyola goals came on outside shots after the Wildkits worked all week in practice to deny the Ramblers any give-and-go opportunities. The defensive unit spearheaded by sophomore Kate Kremin and junior Jamie Donohue was almost impregnable despite the final score. Junior goalie Olivia Post was required to make just 5 saves on the night.

“It was pretty ironic that they scored on two outside shots,” Grillo admitted. “Those were two wide-open shots. But overall I thought we played a great defensive game.”

Muno, Zunamon, Ryan Berkley, Olivia Bates, Rebecca Wagner and twins Lydia and Tess Hoopingarner are the 7 graduating seniors who had to adjust to the changes Grillo brought to the program when he took over in the midst of their high school careers. That included a switch to a possession style of play and a change in positions for a couple of players in that class.

“We lose some good people who helped turn things around for us,” the coach said. “One of the reasons I’m so confident about the future is the way they demonstrated to the players on the lower levels how I want them to play soccer. I’m extremely confident because of what those seniors have transmitted to them.”

Source: ETHS Sports Information

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