Pruitt leads Skyhawks to regional title
HARVARD – Delaney Pruitt had the best match of her life Saturday and the Johnsburg girls soccer team left the field with a plaque because of it.
It took the Johnsburg sophomore just one minute and 42 seconds to change the landscape of a tight, physical match when she scored two important goals in the second half.
The first tied the score and the second put the Skyhawks (11-6) up for good in a 3-2 victory over Richmond-Burton in the Class 1A Harvard Regional final. The win marked the first time Johnsburg has won a girls soccer regional title since its move to the Fox Valley Conference in 2006.
Johnsburg will play Rockford Lutheran in the sectional semifinals Tuesday at Genoa-Kingston High School.
“It’s huge for these girls,” Skyhawks coach Rob Eastland said. “They deserved it and have come through as champions.”
Johnsburg struck first on an Olivia Jansen goal off a feed from Pruitt in the third minute but Richmond-Burton bounced back. The Rockets (15-1-1) played with the wind at their backs in the first half and took a 2-1 lead into halftime behind two goals from Jessica Guenther.
Richmond-Burton ended Johnsburg’s season last year in the regional finals after jumping out to a big lead and it looked poised to do it again, but a quick series of events midway though the second half derailed a shot at a second straight regional title after the Rockets finished third at state last season.
With 25:41 showing on the clock, the field referee gave Rockets goalkeeper Hannah Koenig a yellow card for delay of game. By rule, Koenig had to be replaced by backup Annie Campbell for the next few minutes.
The Rockets coaches didn’t agree the call because Koenig couldn’t hear the referee over the gusting winds and coach Chris Wagner thought the yellow card was excessive.
“He said that Hannah was holding the ball too long and warned her three times,” Wagner said recalling the conversation with the referee. “He didn’t get an acknowledgment from her because she couldn’t hear him in the wind and then he pulled the yellow card.”
Shortly after play resumed, the Rockets were called for a handball in the goal box. On the resulting penalty kick, Pruitt tied the score at 2, placing it past Campbell and starting a huge momentum swing.
“I was thinking just not to miss and just relax,” Pruitt said. “I was just the slightest bit nervous, but I felt confident, and I just had to take a deep breath.”
With the score tied and the wind at Johnsburg’s back, the Skyhawks continued to apply pressure offensively and Pruitt was able to break through for her second goal in the 55th minute. It proved to be the regional title winner.
“[Pruitt] has been unbelievable all season,” Eastland said. “Her and Allie [Layton] up front have torn some team’s defenses to shreds this season, and she stepped up in a pressure moment and delivered.”
With the 3-2 lead and 25 minutes remaining, the Skyhawks main focus shifted to stopping the Rockets and their explosive offense that put up eight goals in the first half against North Boone four days ago.
Johnsburg keyed on dynamic players such as Halley Havlicek and Guenther.
“It was tough getting back and forth running with Halley, but I knew I could do it,” said Skyhawks defender Kortnee Hass who marked Havlicek throughout the match. “I know my coach trusted me to shut her down, so I was mentally prepared.”