SYCAMORE – Winning a Fox Valley Conference Fox Division girls soccer championship had provided a ground-swell of confidence that Crystal Lake Central hoped would carry over to the Class 2A Sycamore Regional.
But deep down Tigers coach Jay Schwarzrock knew replicating a style of play that had produced five straight victories late in the season wouldn't be easy. Central wasn't battle-tested when it came to the playoffs – something he feared could factor in.
For almost 63 minutes Wednesday, the third-seeded Tigers weathered one Sycamore scoring chance after another in their regional semifinal match. But after the Spartans punched a goal in, Central never produced the equalizer and dropped a season-ending 1-0 decision to the second-seeded Spartans.
"We just really struggled on finishing," sophomore Katie Beck said. "We always have a lot of opportunities, but we just couldn't get it in the back of the net."
Central (7-6-1) had some chances, but perfectly placed crosses weren't turned into shots, and the close-range looks Sycamore (8-11-2) seemed to get before Alyssa Maillefer scored with 17:57 remaining never materialized.
But even after falling behind by a goal, the Tigers kept pushing, trying to mount more offensive pressure to try to tie the score.
"We're never out of it," Schwarzrock said. "We can score goals in bunches, but we couldn't get that little niche today. We couldn't click today. That really hurt us today."
Sycamore was able to play more relaxed after Maillefer broke the scoreless tie, forcing the Tigers to try to dictate the pace. Central made a late push in the final minute before the Spartans cleared one final offensive chance to advance to Friday's regional championship against top-seeded Burlington Central.
Despite the loss, Schwarzrock expects the Tigers to learn from the experience and use it next season when he knows things won't come easy.
"We'll come back next year with more confidence," he said. "Now, the girls have to understand the girls have a target on their back. It's good to be here, but we're only here (as division champions) until next season and we have to prove ourselves and everyone's going to be gunning for us."