GIRLS SOCCER: Herscher’s Miner scores lone goal to send Tigers to Super-Sectionals
MANTENO — Senior experience has been Herscher’s calling card all season, as nine Tigers see regular minutes in key spots. But in Saturday’s IHSA Class 1A Manteno Sectional championship against Bishop McNamara, it was a pair of freshmen that led the Tigers to victory.
Jalynn Miner scored the game’s lone goal and Rourke Zigrossi pitched a shutout in goal as the Tigers won 1-0 to advance to Tuesday’s Mendota Super-Sectional.
For Herscher’s group of seniors, seeing a pair of freshmen lead the way was perfect symmetry for a group that began their own high school careers with a sectional championship three years ago.
“All of the seniors have played together since we were eight years old, so it’s really exciting to be able to do this,” senior Olivia Schultz said. “And it’s really exciting that all of the freshmen and underclassmen stepped up.”
After both teams racked up seven-goal margins of victory in the sectional semifinals and spent the season as the area’s top-scoring offenses, it was defense and goalkeeping that ruled Saturday.
The lone exception came with six minutes left in the first half, when Miner fought off a pair of Irish tackle attempts and buried a boot just minutes after another solid scoring chance to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead just before the break.
When asked if she expected to score Saturday – let alone the game’s decisive goal – and what she felt after it happened, Miner was quick with her response.
“Absolutely not. It never registered for me,” Miner said. “I’m just very thankful for my seniors because they always help me navigate the field.”
During the first half, scoring chances were few and far between for the Irish, thanks to stellar defensive play from the Tigers, led by center backs Schultz and Chloe Chavers, a duo that Tigers coach Chris Longtin has loved having on his back line.
“They’re almost like one person back there… They know when one moves up, the other one covers,” Longtin said. “They’re a great team to have in the middle.”
Schultz even had to step in the box and play goalkeeper for a handful of minutes after Zigrossi briefly exited after a collision with McNamara’s Liv Lorenc with 30 minutes left in the second half.
“Longtin told me at the beginning of the season that I would have to (play keeper) if something happened (to Zigrossi),” Schultz said. “But I didn’t think it would actually happen.”
But Zigrossi returned just moments after exiting and was tested more during the game’s final 20 minutes than she had in the first 60. And the 5-foot-3 freshman stood tall, recording eight saves, including a pair on two good looks from the Irish’s Ali Berg in the last 10 minutes.
“I’m really just thinking throughout, ‘I have to do this, I can’t give up now,’” Zigrossi said. “This little mishap wasn’t going to stop me from helping my team out.”
The eight shots on goal were among the highest shot totals Zigrossi has faced during the season, but Longtin knew his young keeper would be prepared for Saturday’s test.
“Rourke had to step up and it’s tough when you don’t see a lot of action in games prior to this,” Longtin said. “We’ve been drilling her pretty hard in practice to make sure she was ready to go, and she stepped up big for us today.”
When the final buzzer sounded, the low-scoring affair may have left some people surprised after watching the two squads score in bunches all season. But for Longtin and Irish coach Marty Ruberry, Saturday’s 1-0 final was expected.
“When you get to the sectional championship, that’s how it should be,” Longtin said. “When it’s the two best teams in the area going at it, I knew it was going to be a nail-biter.”
“They had quite a few chances to score, and I thought we did as well, but the ball just didn’t fall in the net today,” Ruberry said. “It was always going to be a tight-knit game … but it sucks to be on the other end of it.”
While the Irish certainly felt the immediate sting of Saturday’s loss, an optimistic Ruberry kept a glass half-full mindset when considering the big picture after a historic season that saw the Irish win their first conference title, first regional title and a new record for wins in a season with 18.
“We had never got over the hump of 11 games, and we won 18 games. We never won a regional, and we won a regional,” Ruberry said. “We’ll probably have six all-conference players, the conference player of the year, and we only have four starters graduating. Everyone else is coming back.
“It’s something to build on.”
The Tigers will travel to Mendota to take on Alleman at 5 p.m. in the IHSA Class 1A Mendota Super-Sectional with a trip to next weekend’s IHSA State Finals on the line.