EAST CHICAGO | There's something about playing E.C. Central that brings out the hero in Hammond's Lorena Diaz.
The Wildcats junior notched her first goal of the season in the final minute of a regular-season match with the Cardinals to give Hammond a win. Her second goal of the year came at 71:49 of Saturday's sectional final to give the Wildcats a 3-2 victory and the school's first-ever postseason trophy.
"It's just magic (playing against E.C. Central), I guess," Diaz said. "I don't know why."
E.C. Central's Annmarie Martinez tied the game at 2-2 on a free kick from just outside the left corner of the box at 68:03 that went off Hammond keeper Miriam Martinez's fingers and just inside the far post.
Diaz's opportunity came less than three minutes later and she bounced one by Cardinals' goalie Bianca Perez to the lower 90.
"I feel vindicated," Wildcats coach Mayra Rodriguez-Alvarez said. "This is our third sectional championship and we've finally won one.
"Third time's a charm. It was our day today, finally."
The Cardinals (1-16) got on the board first in the 17th minute when Karel Perez's free kick from the sideline at about 40 yards took a bounce over Martinez. Andrea Ramirez was there to head the ball into the nylon.
"We had a game plan going in and we executed it good for 40 minutes," E.C. Central coach Eric Moreno said. "Hammond High just overcame us."
The Wildcats (6-6) had a chance to tie it up about 10 minutes later when Elizabeth Navarro was awarded a free kick from just outside the box. The junior midfielder's shot ricocheted off the wall and her rebound sailed over the crossbar.
Navarro had a second chance in the 54th minute and tied it up with a shot from about 20 yards that was over and out of the reach of Perez.
"We've been working hard all summer and we deserved it," Rodriguez-Alvarez said. "I told them that we can't stop, no matter what, to just keep going to the whistle."
The Cardinals came into the sectional with no wins and 15 losses.
"I thought it was a mental advantage that a lot of teams were not taking us as a competitor in this tournament," Moreno said. "I knew what we were capable of, but we just fell short."
Hammond will face Crown Point in the opening round of the Valparaiso Regional on Wednesday.