The weather was beautiful. The start of the game was ugly, at least from Pekin’s standpoint.
Moline scored two goals in the first 1:47 and went on to defeat the host Lady Dragons 4-1 Wednesday in a Class 3A regional semifinal girls soccer game at Coal Miners Park.
Next for No. 4 seed Moline (12-5-1) is the regional championship game at noon Saturday against No. 1 seed Normal Community (15-3-3).
Next for No. 5 seed Pekin (14-5-2) is an off-season to shake off the effects of a sub-par performance Wednesday but celebrate a surprisingly successful spring.
“We weren’t ready to play at the start of the game (Wednesday). We weren’t focused. They ran right past us on those goals. It was brutal,” said Pekin coach Edgar Sandoval, who was brutally honest about the first two minutes.
The rest of the game wasn’t much better for Pekin, which has never won a regional championship and played only twice in the regional title game (2008 and 2011) since the team debuted in 1997.
“We competed, but we played our game for only about 10 of the 40 minutes in each half,” Sandoval said. “The remainder of the time we kicked the ball around without much thought. It wasn’t our day.”
Moline coach Rick Sanchez was thrilled about the beginning of the game, especially because his team hadn’t played in 12 days.
“That was unexpected,” he said about the two quick goals.
“I give a lot of credit to our girls for playing with a sense of urgency and capitalizing on two opportunities,” he said.
Jamie Althiser, Moline’s all-time top goal-scorer, contributed to all four of her team’s goals Wednesday.
She set up Fiona Roehrs for a shot that hit the far post and went into the net at 27 seconds and she scored an unassisted goal at 1:47.
Pekin’s Tyranie Cox raced past a Moline defender with a burst of speed and scored at 3:36 to cut the Maroons’ lead to 2-1, but Althiser passed to Alannah Crompton for a goal at 7:24 that made it 3-1.
Althiser ended the scoring at 73:29 when she eluded three Pekin defenders and sent a shot into the back of the net.
The Northern Iowa University recruit and two-time Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Class 3A All-State selection now has 82 career goals and 52 career assists in four years at Moline. She has 25 goals and 11 assists this season.
Pekin’s Christy Torrey was a busy goalie Wednesday. She made a dozen saves. Moline goalie Hanna Snider made two saves. The Maroons outshot the Lady Dragons 16-3.
Now, for the good news for Pekin fans. The Lady Dragons are losing just one senior — defender Audrey Duley, an Illinois Central College recruit — from a team that tied for second-most wins in a season in program history and tied for second place in the Mid-Illini Conference.
“The season didn’t end the way we wanted, but when you look at where we were last year (9-7-5) and two years ago (12-8-2), you have to be thrilled with our progress,” Sandoval said.
The Lady Dragons won their own tournament and a tournament in Burlington, Iowa on back-to-back weekends in April and lost only one conference game, a 1-0 decision May 3 to Mid-Illini champion Metamora. They finished 3-1-2 in the conference.
“We’re not going to surprise any teams in our conference next year,” Sandoval said. “We’re going to have a target on our backs.”
This will be the fifth straight time Moline and Normal Community will meet for a regional title. The Maroons won just one of the first four meetings, in 2014.
“We can’t seem to get away from them,” Sanchez said.
Moline has won 10 of 12 since a 2-4-0 start this season that included a 2-0 win over Pekin on April 1 at Coal Miners Park.
“We graduated seven kids from last year’s team and it showed early in the year,” Sanchez said.