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Soccer: Sterling loses nailbiter to Rock Island

STERLING – After scoring goals late in a pair of overtime sessions, Sterling seemed like it had destiny on its side in Friday's soccer game against Rock Island.

Destiny went out the window, however, in the form of missed penalty kicks.

The Golden Warriors converted just one of five penalty kicks, while the Rocks made two of five to pull out a 4-3 decision in a Class 2A Geneseo Regional quarterfinal at Roscoe Eades Stadium.

Rock Island will take on Geneseo in a semifinal on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., followed by Dixon and United Township.

Rock Island (5-10-1) seized control by converting two of its first three penalty kicks, with Tyshae Mulica and Isabel Vallejo putting the ball in the back of the net. Sterling (8-15-1), meanwhile, started off 0-for-3, with freshmen Natalie Herrera and Fatima Gallardo and sophomore Rosa Sanchez misfiring.

The fourth of Rocky's five shooters, Grace Alongi, had a chance to finish off the game, but her shot caromed off the bottom of the crossbar.

"It was like, 'OK, please, enough of this,'" Vallejo said. "This is too much stress for this team."

Sterling's Erin Ansusinha kept her team alive by converting on her opportunity.

In the fifth round, Rock Island's Izzi Wieland had another chance to finish off the game, but she was stuffed by Sterling goalkeeper Mia Ashley.

That left the game on the right foot of Sterling's Kaitlyn Bauer. Coach Brian Cebula set the order of his five penalty kickers to have his seniors, Ansusinha and Bauer, go late.

Bauer's attempt, however, didn't have a chance. It sailed high and right, leaving the Rocks to celebrate on Sterling Chevrolet Field.

"She wanted to go fifth," Cebula said of Bauer, "but unfortunately she couldn't convert. It's OK. It was a great game to watch."

In regulation time, both teams managed to score one goal, and they were within 22 seconds of each other.

With 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the first half, a shot by Bauer was blocked with the hands of a Rock Island defender just outside the goal. Sanchez then converted on a penalty kick to give the Golden Warriors a 1-0 lead.

In a relative blink of an eye, however, Rock Island responded, as Vallejo found the back of the net.

In a scoreless second half, Bauer came the closest to scoring. She hit the crossbar with a rocket of a shot with 20:15 to play. With 6 minutes left, she weaved her way through the Rock Island defense and fired a shot that rolled across the front of the goal, but missed just left.

That necessitated two 10-minute overtime periods.

In the first OT, Rock Island's Samantha Roberge scored from in close with 6:20 left. She was there to poke in a rebound after a long shot was mishandled by Sterling keeper Ashley.

With 1:32 left, Bauer answered, again with a shot from close range. Rock Island goalie Lauren Simmer appeared to make the save, but the ball trickled past her, barely crawling over the line.

In the second OT, Rock Island again struck first. Vallejo got her second goal of the game, and third of the season, to give the Rocks a 3-2 lead.

"We were up, we had the ball on their side, and it should have been over," Vallejo said. "We let them stay in the game."

Sterling stayed alive with a goal from Gallardo with just 1:17 remaining in the second overtime.

At the end of that OT, Gallardo fired a shot from about 20 yards just before the horn sounded that missed going in by inches.

"That was very close," Gallardo said. "I just had to turn my hips a little bit more, and it would have went in."

Rock Island coach Conan Dalton was frustrated by his team's inability to hold onto two leads in overtime.

"When you keep getting leads, you've got to learn to spread the field out and still attack, and just play smarter," Dalton said. "We just didn't do that today. It was very, very upsetting."

The Rocks now get a shot at the regional's top seed, Geneseo. The Maple Leafs won a 4-1 decision between the squads in the regular season.

"I'd love to finally beat Geneseo after 4 years of playing against them," Vallejo said. "If this team works hard and shows what we really have, I think we've got a shot against them."

For Sterling, it was another frustrating loss on penalty kicks. The Warriors were 0-3 in that situation, having lost to Galesburg and Champaign Centennial in that fashion at the United Township Tournament back on April 19.

"It's a shame that games have to end on PKs," Cebula said, "but that's the nature of the beast."

"We were confident going into PKs," Gallardo said, "but it just didn't go our way tonight."

Star of the game: Isabel Vallejo, RI, 2 goals

Up next: Rock Island vs. Geneseo, 4:30 Tuesday

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