LITCHFIELD — It was St. Teresa keeper Makenzee Velchek's worst nightmare.
With the Bulldogs ahead 1-0 in the second half against Carlinville in the Class 1A Litchfield Sectional final, the Cavaliers' Skylar Nickel was tripped in front of the goal and awarded a penalty kick.
It was just Velchek, Nickel and the ball with the sectional title on the line.
"It is the most nerve wracking thing," Velchek said. "It is all down to you to make the save or not but I was thinking maybe with the wind at her back it might go over. My dreams came true."
The balls sailed over the top bar of the goal and Velchek could breath again.
Her stellar defense was key in the Bulldogs' 1-0 victory Saturday which gave the program its first sectional championship in school history. They'll will face Columbia in the super-sectionals on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Columbia High School.
A breezy afternoon created two very different halves for the Bulldogs. With the wind at its back in the first half, St. Teresa spent much of its time on Carlinville's half of the field. Velchek's goalie kicks would reach well over the center line in the first half, but after switching goals it was Velchek and her defenders — including junior Mackenzie Claypool, junior Addison Fyke, senior Tara Grueter and sophomore Grace Pugh -- who were called upon to save the victory for the Bulldogs.
"That second half felt like three games combined into the one it was so long," Velchek said. "The wind was a big difference and we were getting tired from the first half and we really focused on being defensive so that takes a lot out of you."
Velcheck finished with 11 saves and after deflecting a shot with 10:03 left in the second half, Claypool sacrificed her body to block a Cavalier's followup shot and injured her knee and had to leave the game.
"Our defense is amazing — it is the best I've ever played with and one of the best in the state," Velchek said. "I tell them to watch for something and they snap to it. They cover my back and I've got theirs. Over the season we have grown so much in our communication and that really helps on the field."
Velchek and her defenders have kept Carlinville (14-4-3) scoreless for 160 minutes this season after the first meeting between the Bulldogs (22-2-2) and Cavaliers ended in a 0-0 tie on April 27.
As the team tired in the second half, it was Velchek's defensive stops that gave the team much-needed energy.
"She gives us some momentum and excitement after those big saves. I was worried throughout that second half," St. Teresa head coach Connor Smith said. "I kept looking at the clock and it was barely moving. I'm just so glad we get celebrate because these girls really deserve it."
The game's lone goal came from St. Teresa forward Kaylee Kleist, who beat her defender and kicked it through with 21:44 left in the first half.
"I'm so happy today — usually it is the other two forwards who get a lot of the goals and I will assist them, but today I was able to put it in," Kleist said. "The coaches and my teammates keep me going when I get frustrated."
Smith had a feeling it was Kleist's day.
"I told Kaylee before the game, 'Today you are going to get one,' and then she got that goal. She worked so hard in the semifinals and I'm so happy for her today," he said.
Kleist is an aggressive player — she received a yellow card during the game -- but her physical play can be a strength in getting into the right position. She led the team with nine assists in the regular season and had eight goals.
"I'm very passionate player and if you know me only from on the field you probably wouldn't like me as much if you meet me outside of soccer," Kleist said. "I care a lot about it and I do what it takes."
Much like the Bulldogs, Columbia features three dangerous forwards who are scoring threats and so the Bulldogs' defense will have to be on their toes.
'We've accomplished two of our goals (regional and sectional titles) and we have one more goal to reach all of them and get to state," Smith said. "Columbia is going to be an offensive heavy game and we are going to be ready for it."