Sarah O’Connor had a strong instinct where Heather Handwork was going with the ball. “Just before she lined up, I noticed she was looking left, or to my right, and as soon as she approached the ball, I just ran to the right side as fast as I could,” the sophomore Buffalo Grove keeper said.
Her spectacular diving stop of Handwork’s kick secured the No. 3 Bison’s 2-1 victory on penalty kicks over No. 2 Plainfield North in the championship of the Pepsi Showdown at Toyota Park in Bridgeview Sunday afternoon.
Despite trailing for 55 minutes in regulation, the Bison (15-0-1) captured the tournament in their first year as a participant. The players were overwhelmed by the cathedral space of the field, said junior midfielder Skylar Groth. “Just walking out onto the field, we were so excited and thrilled to be here,” she said. “I can’t explain what it’s like.”
Buffalo Grove outscored the Tigers 4-2 in the shootout phase. “They got a bit unlucky, and we made shots,” Groth said. On the first attempt, Plainfield North senior midfielder Kaela Leskovar hit the right post.
“It’s just unfortunate such a great game had to be decided by penalty kicks and not by a play on the field,” Plainfield North coach Jane Crowe said. “If that first shot goes in, it could have been a completely different result.
Groth, junior forward Allie Ingham and junior midfielder Kelli Zickert scored in the shootout for the Bison. Senior midfielder Carly Brown, the last official kicker, ended the game by drilling a shot into the right corner. She is formally credited with the goal.
Highlighted by the individual showdown of Zickert and Tigers’ senior forward Ashley Handwork, the game lived up to the billing of two powerhouse and undefeated programs. Ashley Handwork provided the Tigers (12-1) the 1-0 advantage when she scored her 17th goal in the fifth minute on a beautiful pass from her younger sister, junior midfielder Heather Handwork.
“I saw the opening, but Ashley had the better angle so I passed it to her rather than take the shot,” Heather Handwork said.
Senior Plainfield North keeper Erin Wren preserved the Tigers’ precarious lead by twice recording incredible breakaway stops of Kelli Zickert, the Bison’s top scorer. “I come from a hockey family and my style of play is to be aggressive,” Wren said. Twice she bolted from the box to remove Zickert’s angle and smother the ball.
After Buffalo Grove failed to break through on five consecutive corner kicks during a 90-second burst, Heather Handwork used a counter for an apparent breakaway that O’Connor was able to get a glancing hand on her shot that misdirected the ball.
Moments later, Buffalo Grove finally broke through. Playing with the wind, senior defender JayJay Lowery directed a perfect ball into the box that sophomore forward Sara Busse blasted in for the equalizer in the 60th minute.
“JayJay played a great ball, I saw it coming and I was just able to make a play on the ball and go to the near post with it,” Busse said. “Once I scored that definitely got our momentum going. Now, having that feeling of leaving Toyota Park with the win is just amazing.”