Spartans advance to first state title game
By Gary Larsen
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Maybe it didn't do justice to soccer as "the beatiful game" but one play was pretty enough to get St. Francis to a state title game.
That play started when Sydney Fox found Andrea Ravlin in the center of the field, and Ravlin dribbled up the gut with a defender on her left hip, five minutes into the second half of a scoreless draw against Saint Viator.
"I knew to relax and Amanda was screaming for the ball," Ravlin said. "The defender was kind of pushing me towards her. I got it to her and she was able to put it away."
Spartans senior Amanda Gaggioli ran onto Ravlin's feed and fired the game's lone goal, sending St. Francis to a Class 2A state title game against Chatham-Glenwood, a 3-0 winner over Normal in the day's other state semifinal at North Central College.
Gaggioli scored a goal that tied Benet in an eventual super-sectional shootout win, and had an assist in the Spartans' 2-0 sectional title win over Wheaton Academy.
"She has gotten more and more comfortable in that role and gotten better and better and better," Spartans coach Jim Winslow said. "She's always been a very good playmaker and now with us, in this system, she's expected to score goals and have a more attacking personality. She has really started to take to it and played better and better in that role."
For most of the contest, St. Francis (23-3) and Saint Viator (15-9-4) engaged in a game lacking much attacking fluidity or cohesion. Numerous balls were played in the air rather than to feet by both teams, and a wind that steadily swept its way towards the south end of the field gave advantage both ways.
The Spartans played into the wind in the first half.
"Two teams feeling each other out and on top of it, as the half went on the wind got worse," Winslow said. "We had one chance early and maybe one or two after that so against the wind it started to feel like we just had to hold on. The wind played a huge role in what was going on. Jenna (DiTusa) didn't have to make a save in the second half."
DiTusa did have to make a big save in the first half, however. A Viator free kick resulted in DiTusa making a diving stop, mid-way through the first half.
St. Francis ultimately earned a 9-3 edge in shots on frame and a 4-0 edge in corner kicks on the day. DiTusa finished with two saves with Viator keeper Morgan Hess made eight stops. After the Spartans kept the Lions out of net through 40 minutes, they knew what was needed with the wind at their backs in the second half.
"We had to play our game and keep connecting, making passes, and we had to be patient," Ravlin said."It was tough. Viator's a good team, we're a good team, and we were able to play our game well enough to be patient and win the game."
Once the Spartans had their goal, they protected the lead well against a Saint Viator team that struggled to find dangerous space. The shutout was the 18th for DiTusa and the Spartans.
Many a state semifinal win has sent players into a state of delirium at the final buzzer, that they've earned a spot in the state title game. Not so with the Spartans after their win over the Lions.
"A big part of it is you have to understand how the other team is feeling," Ravlin said. "We've been in that position before and we know what it feels like. It stinks when you have to see another team celebrating like that. By doing that we hope it showed the respect we have for the other team. We know how it feels. It's sad. But at the same time it is a big deal to us and we're very happy to be playing for a state title."