BYRON — The Princeton Tigresses fought to a 1-1 tie with the Byron Tigers to finish out the regular season Thursday night.
From the Princeton end of things, it looked as if it was going to go quite differently as they dominated for 39 minutes of the first half. They kept the ball on the Byron side of the middle line for virtually the whole time.
Senior Michelle Kelly scored on a direct kick in the 14th minute. Even the rain which slowed play for about 10 minutes did not thwart Princeton’s attack on the Byron goal.
But then, in the 40th minute, Byron senior Katie Druien weaved in and out of the Princeton defense, crossed a kick to the front right post of the goal which rebounded to the left side of the net to tie the score at one with just 30 seconds remaining in the half.
“We gave them inspiration in the last two minutes of the first half,” said Princeton coach Ed Young. “I’m not a big fan of ties. But we simply have to find a way to score more goals.”
The late goal in the first half changed the momentum of the game, but it was not the only determining factor that helped the Byron squad play to a draw against the favored and more talented Princeton team.
Not only was it Senior Night on the Byron pitch, but it was also a game dedicated to the recently deceased mother of Byron freshman Natalie Hilden.
Druien, a four-year player on the Byron varsity, who nearly won it with a booming shot in the 76th minute, was quite clear about her inspiration.
“It was for Natalie,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team. Coming in as a freshman I would never have thought we could tie a team like Princeton. I couldn’t be more happy with my team. They had my back, and I had theirs.”
Hilden, who started and played the first 10 minutes of both halves, lost her mother Sheila Hilden to a battle with congestive heart failure on April 27. She now lives with junior teammate Heidi Galster.
Both Galster and Druien say Hilden is their inspiration.
“I was blessed to have Natalie come into my home,” said Galster. “She’s been a blessing of strength. Everyone looks at her and sees how strong she is. I know everyone says that we have her back but she is the one who keeps us strong. We’re together as a team.”
Prior to the game there was the recognition of the seniors. But in addition, Hilden’s teammates donned special shirts in memory of her mother, both Tigers teams – Byron and Princeton – gathered in unity in the middle of the field for a moment of silence, and there was a balloon release.
“It means a lot to hear Katie say that,” said Hilden. “All year I’ve been looking for a spot that I can fit in. And now I have so many sisters that I’ve never had. It’s a good feeling.”
The second half of the game looked much more like an even match. If time of possession were kept, it may show an advantage to Princeton, but not a huge one.
With the exception of a shot off the foot of sophomore Eliza Young right at Byron goalie Lyndsey Schultz and a strong shot off the left foot of junior Kim Schlesinger that went just wide left, there were no serious attacks on the Byron goal.
The story was not much different for the Byron Tigers with the exception of the aforementioned booming shot off the foot of Druien which found senior goal keeper Kelly Schmidt making a courageous stop.
“She got through on a break away and my stomach kinda got in the way. I think that one will leave a bruise – a tattoo of the ball,” Schmidt said.
The game ended with a flurry in front of the Byron net, but Princeton could not get a clean shot off and the time ran out with the teams in a draw.
Princeton has recorded a shutout in each of their wins on the year as well as one of their ties.
“I think the goal [at the end of the first half] definitely helped them,” Schmidt said. “They were all pretty inspired by what they were playing for today with their teammate and her family. I think that definitely helped them.”
Both teams will host their regional tournaments as the No. 2 seed. Byron will face conference foe Winnebago Tuesday while Princeton will square off against DePue Wednesday.
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