VALPARAISO | Out of a crowd, with time ticking away, Crown Point's Lauren O'Keefe got her right foot on the biggest shot of her life.
The Bulldogs' sophomore midfielder pulled the trigger from just outside the goal box, surrounded by Valparaiso defenders. The shot rocketed into the upper right corner of the net with just 39 seconds remaining, giving Crown Point a 2-1 victory Saturday night over the Vikings in the Class 2A Valparaiso Regional championship.
"I'm not sure what to say about it," a jubilant O'Keefe said. "I was thinking nothing, just that we needed a goal.
"I will never forget this the rest of my life."
C.P. (18-3) advances to the South Bend St. Joseph's Semistate next Saturday to face Fort Wayne Dwenger (15-4). Valparaiso, which lost to the Bulldogs on penalty kicks in last year's regional played at Highland, finishes 15-4-1.
In a physical second half played at times in a driving rain, the Vikings tied the game at 1-1 with 9:15 to play. Valpo senior Andrea Violanti scored after a corner kick by Kaylee Pullins.
Both coaches were thinking about overtime when O'Keefe came through with the game winner.
"That was a great game, with the weather and what was at stake," C.P. coach Chris Mikrut said. "Both teams had real good opportunities, and we just had one more.
"That shot was great. I was relaxed more than ever, because these kids find a way to win."
The Bulldogs played most of the game without senior star Sarah Rivich, who injured her right knee in Wednesday's semifinal win against Munster. Rivich played less than 20 minutes, but she was on the field when O'Keefe connected.
"She grabs a lot of attention just being out there," Mikrut said. "The game was won for us in the midfield with Courtney Farrell, Rachel Marczewski and O'Keefe. Those three really controlled the game for us."
Marczewski gave the Bulldogs the early lead, scoring with 16:12 remaining on the first half.
The Vikings didn't get off any shots in the first half, but had five shots in the second half including a point-blank miss by junior Lauren Reineke off a feed from sophomore Grace Withrow with 30 minutes remaining, as C.P. keeper Meghan Morasan made a miraculous save.
"It was a beautiful connection," Valpo coach Rob Cespedes said. "That is something we practice a lot. Our girls played with their hearts and those opportunities for goals are a perfect example.
"When we equalized it, I thought it's been back and forth the whole second half. Our second half was better than the first."
The Bulldogs beat the Vikings 2-0 on Sept. 11 in the regular season at home, and Mikrut remarked at the time that the home team usually wins that matchup.
His girls didn't let him forget that.
"They emailed me today the quote from the paper last time we played, that it seems like whoever is home wins," Mikrut said. "So it does feel good to win on their field.
"The girls have to do it themselves, and I have so much faith in them."