While the air temperature plummeted, two crucial pieces for Sterling soccer continued to heat up Thursday at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
Allie Johnson's and Kaitlyn Bauer's respective sizzles intensified as they repeatedly burnt Princeton defenders in a 3-0 nonconference victory. Johnson scored two goals and Bauer one, both running their total for the season – and the week – to three.
"And it's toward the end of the season," Sterling coach Brian Cebula said, managing a smile despite shuddering in the gusting wind. "They're getting hot at the right time."
The game-winning tally came in the 27th minute and ought to open the Bauer prep sports highlight reel. From midfield, freshman Rosa Sanchez put a through-ball into all sorts of space down the right side.
"It was clean," Bauer said. "She somehow got it past all the defenders."
The ball and Bauer met just shy of the penalty box, where defenders Brianna Barajas and Becca Turpen closed. Undaunted, Bauer led them about 10 yards to the edge of the "G" in Sterling before deftly splitting them and engaging Kelly Schmidt just enough to tuck the ball inside the near post.
"That play actually showed how far she's come," Johnson said.
Sterling (7-9-2) senior Chelsea Asbury would've doubled the lead 6 minutes later off a sweet corner from Johnson, if not for Eliza Young helping her goaltender with a save near the left post.
Then Bauer was denied a second goal, despite a sensational move that stemmed from her hoops skill set. Feeling Young on her back along the edge of the penalty box, she backfooted the ball and used a drop step to collect it, but sent a shot just wide.
"I think it went through that girl's legs, too," Cebula said.
"I can't really take credit for that. It just comes. I don't really think about it," Bauer said. "I love being a post player in basketball, so it kind of helps being a forward in soccer."
Johnson showed there is no such thing as a bad shot on goal by cutting loose a humpback shot from 30 yards out. It glanced off Schmidt's hand and snuck into the top right corner with 12.6 seconds left in the half off a Sydney McCaslin assist.
She added a far grittier goal in the 65th minute, as Sanchez beat Turpen along the left side and drew three other defenders before reaching the penalty box. Seeing Johnson dashing through the heart of the box, she sent a perfectly paced ball that Johnson slid into and toed past the keeper moments before Schmidt could get to the setup.
Being draped by a defender didn't faze Johnson.
"I just had to react faster, I guess," she said. "I just slid into it. I just kind of slide-tackled the ball."
"Luckily, Allie didn't give up," Cebula said. "She saw what Rosa was probably going to do with it, even though she didn't have the greatest of angles. She continued to run and was able to win that 50/50 ball."
Such battles were the tipping point, in Princeton coach Ed Young's eyes.
"They were winning the 50/50 balls," he said. "Any ball that was in the air, you didn't even see it hit the ground. One of our theories is, win the ball, win the game."
Callie Sinn made six saves to post her fourth clean sheet of the season. She squashed a potential momentum shift with about 10 minutes to play, squeezing a hot, point-blank shot off the foot of Michaela Strom.
It was the lone bona fide scoring chance for the Tigers (7-6-0). Bauer alone had three.
"They definitely have a nice game plan for linking No. 10 into the play and giving her options with the ball," Young said. "She's dangerous. Very dangerous."
Star of the game: Allie Johnson, Sterling, 2 goals, 3 shots
Key performers: Kaitlyn Bauer, Sterling, goal, 2 shots; Rosa Sanchez, Sterling, 2 assists; Callie Sinn, Sterling, 6-save shutout
Up next: Geneseo at Sterling, 6 p.m. Tuesday