NAPERVILLE, Ill. - It wasn’t uncharted territory for the Triad Knights girls soccer team on Friday afternoon at North Central College in Naperville.

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They had been there before, and triumphed.

Triad was playing in the second IHSA Class 2A state semifinal against the Peoria Notre Dame Irish. It was the Knights’ fifth trip to the state tournament since 2017 and their seventh time overall.

It was PND’s fourth trip to state, all of which ended in defeat in the semifinals. The Irish finished fourth in 2003 and 2010 and then took third in its last appearance in 2015.

The Knights beat the Irish 1-0 thanks to a 73rd minute goal from Cameron Bohnenstiehl.

Triad won a corner kick and Maddie Hunt whipped in an enticing ball that Bohnenstiehl redirected into the net with a half volley.

Knights head coach Matt Bettlach couldn’t have drawn the play up better himself.

“Actually, when that ball was played across and I saw it was going to Cam, I knew we had a chance,” he said.

“She does a great job of volleying, to get that ball up. She could have either headed it, or volleyed it, but I thought Cameron Bohnenstiehl was the perfect player for that cross to go to.”

She got just enough of it as it rattled off the crossbar and bounced across the goal line. It was her fifth goal of the season.

The first 60 minutes of the game though? Mainly Irish.

“At this stage, survive and advance, right,” Bettlach joked.

His team, thanks to some key saves from sophomore goalkeeper Peyton Hartmann, kept the lethal Irish attack in check.

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“Our defense has played well all year but Peyton has really answered the bell in these playoffs,” Bettlach said. “I feel like every team since Freeburg, they’ve all had a dynamic forward, and she’s answered the call, made some nice saves.”

It was an Irish team that fell to 24-2-1 and will now play in the third-place game on Saturday at 10 a.m. at NCC against Burlington Central (16-9-2).

Triad advances to the championship game where it will take on Crystal Lake Central (22-2-2) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

But it was a challenge getting there.

“We had a good halftime talk,” Bettlach said. “We were happy with where we were, and then the second half started. I don’t think it was the wind necessarily, [the Irish] were just playing very direct. It seemed like any time the ball came to one of their backs, they were just playing it down field.”

That was the case as Triad dealt with the ball in its own half for the majority of the first 40 minutes. Hartmann and the Knights’ defense prevailed and Triad earned its 17th shutout of the season.

It’s a Triad team that, unlike other years, is feeling a little bit disrespected.

“It’s funny. People were always telling me that we’re supposed to be having a down year,” Bettlach said.

“As we were getting closer to playoffs, I wanted another coach that we’ve played to give me an analysis of my team. Give me the scouting report, that when somebody calls you, what do you tell them about Triad?”

The coach, that Bettlach kept anonymous, ended up being the spark the Knights needed.

“He’s like, well, numerous people have said that you guys weren’t that good and are having a down year. And I told the girls that,” Bettlach said.

“And honestly, it really made them mad, and it made me mad too. Because you look at what we’ve done and our body of work, if you want to say that we’re having a down year, then great, look where we are. We’re playing for a state championship tomorrow.”

Triad will be heading back into the state finals, this time with a bit of an extra edge.

“I think this team is motivated, they have great senior leadership. I think the difference for this year’s team is that maybe we are a little underestimated.”

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