St. Charles East defeats St. Charles North for first time in playoffs

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Amanda Hilton said before the playoffs that she and her St. Charles East teammates felt overshadowed by the success of crosstown rival St. Charles North and wanted to put East back on the map.

Consider it done.

Kellie Santo Paolo and Shannon Rasmussen scored on great shots from distance and the Saints overcame a lengthy storm delay and serious injuries to Hannah Rawson and Rion Gaffney to upset top-seeded St. Charles North 2-1 on Tuesday at the Class 3A Conant Sectional semifinals.

It was the first time the Saints (16-4-5) have beaten the North Stars in the playoffs. East, which was making its first sectional appearance since 2007, will play the winner of the Conant-Geneva semifinal, which was postponed to Wednesday, in Friday’s final.

“It feels so good to finally win against them after all these years and in such an important game,” Santo Paolo said. “We have been so motivated lately and we really wanted to win. We want to go as far as we can and this is the team to do it.”

After fending off an early flurry by St. Charles North (17-5-2), which was playing in the sectional for the 12th straight season, the Saints scored on consecutive shots.

The first came with 20:07 left in the first half when Santo Paolo received a pass from Hilton and ripped a 35-yard grounder inside the left post.

“I was wide open so I took my time on it,” Santo Paolo said. “I saw it go in, and it was probably the best feeling ever.”

Fellow senior Rasmussen had a similar feeling six minutes later when she curved a 21-yard free kick from just outside the top-right corner of the box over the defensive wall and into the upper-left corner of the net to give East a 2-0 lead.

Ironically, while Rasmussen has been dangerous on dead balls throughout her career, she had been struggling.

“I stayed after practice and worked on them because this is actually the first free kick that I got a goal off of all season,” Rasmussen said. “I do take them, but it just hadn’t been working out for me.”

St. Charles East coach Paul Jennison, who had never beaten North in his six-year tenure, was glad it worked out.

“Those were two great strikes,” Jennison said. “We’ve been talking to them all year about hitting a target. You’re going to miss but keep shooting. I told Kelly if you get a chance, have a go. You can put them in the back corner and thankfully she did. And Shannon, what a great free kick.”

But the Saints had to wait three hours to close out the historic victory.

The North Stars cut the lead in half when Sophie Pohl scored on a breakaway off a perfect lead pass from Hannah Durocher with 9:32 to go in the first half.

Both sides missed great scoring chances just before lightning halted play for nearly two hours with 17:41 remaining. The Saints then held off a furious rally.

North defender Jenny Barr barely missed two shots high and East goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan stopped a 30-yard free kick by Alyssa Brandt.

“We say it every year, in high school sports you’ve got to get a little bit lucky,” St. Charles North coach Ruth Vostal said. “We were unlucky with the two goals we gave up. It was our mistakes that caused those goals, but those last 17 minutes, we say walk off the field with no regret, and I don’t think you could have asked for a better fight.”

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