If the Pekin girls soccer team is going to win the program’s first regional championship, the team will need to play its best game of the season.
“Absolutely,” said Dragons coach Edgar Sandoval, looking ahead to his team’s Class 3A Pekin Regional title game against Normal Community at 11 a.m. Saturday at Coal Miners Park.
“Normal Community is legit,” Sandoval said. “They’re solid and deep. They have a great record (18-4-2) against an extremely tough schedule and they finished second in the Big 12 Conference.”
Pekin (13-7) advanced to the regional championship game thanks to a 4-1 victory Wednesday over Joliet West in the regional semifinals. It was the Dragons’ fourth straight victory.
“Beating Joliet West (12-10) was a quality win,” Sandoval said.
Why? Joliet West is the No. 4 sub-sectional seed and Pekin is No. 6, so the Dragons’ victory was technically an upset.
Plus, Joliet West has a Division I recruit in Amanda DiNardo, who is headed to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
DiNardo had scored 38 goals this season before Wednesday’s game. She was shut out against Pekin thanks to the defensive work of the Dragons’ Diana Beecham and Alex Lane.
“Diana and Alex did a great job on DiNardo. My goodness,” Sandoval said.
Pekin goalie Paige Smith also was terrific, Sandoval said, especially in the second half. Smith made 11 saves.
Joliet West scored first on a goal at 4:47 following a Pekin defensive breakdown.
Alex Bassen evened the score at 1-1 at 22:34 when she put home a penalty kick after Pekin’s Tyranie Cox was taken down in the penalty box.
Then came the turning point of the game.
A poor goal kick by the Joliet West goalie ricocheted off a Pekin player to Bassen, who got the ball to teammate Allie Scally for a goal at 38:17, just 1:43 before halftime.
Second-half goals by Cox at 44:16 and 69:48 put distance between the Dragons and Joliet West.
Sandoval marveled at Cox’s first goal, a header off a corner kick by Bassen.
“Tyranie headed the corner kick at its highest point and drilled it into the net like a hammer and nail,” he said.
Scally assisted on Cox’s second goal. The two goals gave Cox 20 goals for the season.
Pekin beat Joliet West 4-0 last year when the teams met in the Pekin Invitational.
“They were the younger team last year and we’re the younger team this year,” Sandoval said.
Normal Community, Pekin’s opponent Saturday, is the No. 1 sub-sectional seed.
Steve Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.