Coming into its Central Coast Section Division III semifinal matchup against Priory, Menlo School's Lizzie Lacy hadn't started a single game at goalkeeper for the Knights, as the junior had been the backup to sophomore standout Schuyler Tilney-Volk all season long.
On the other hand, midfielder Sienna Stritter had been one of the star performers for Menlo all year, compiling two goals and an assistant in Menlo's quarterfinal victory against Terra Nova last Saturday.
On Wednesday, both Lacy and Stritter proved instrumental to the top-seeded Knights winning effort as Stritter scored two second-half goals and Lacy pitched a shutout in the net to help Menlo defeat the No. 12 Panthers, 2-0, and advance to the section championship game.
"Second half we started connecting on passes, being first to the ball and controlling the ball. The girls started playing like they were capable of," said Menlo head coach Donoson FitzGerald said. "I'm proud of the way the girls played."
The top-seeded Knights (17-3-2) will meet No. 6 Sacred Heart Prep (19-2-2) in the title match Saturday at Valley Christian High in San Jose at 6 p.m. The two Atherton rivals have faced off twice already this season, with Menlo winning one game and the teams tying in the other contest.
Menlo certainly would not have made it to the championship game without Lacy's stellar performance while filling in for Tilney-Volk, who could not make it to Wednesday night's game.
"(Lacy) was amazing," said FitzGerald, who expects Tilney-Volk to be available for the game Saturday. "When we realized Schuyler wasn't going to be able to play, (Lacy) just said 'I'm ready.' She worked hard in practice yesterday, had a great attitude and was excited."
Stritter added that she and her teammates were extremely proud of Lacy's poise and confidence in her first start at goalie.
"Lizzie is such a star. She's been such a team player and she stepped up to the occasion and gave it her all," Stritter said. "She really shined, and we were so lucky to have someone so willing and athletic to be able to do that."
Stritter herself had an impressive performance, as her two goals were scored approximately one minute apart from each other midway through the second half.
"She's really good one on one with a goalie," FitzGerald said of Stritter. "She made great plays. That's why she's our leading scorer along with Chandler (Wickers), and one of our captains. She can beat people and score goals."
The first half of the game was a struggle for Menlo, as the Knights were unable to get many good looks around the net despite dominating the time of possession.
Instead it was Priory that had a couple of great chances to score late in the first half.
First, with 17 minutes left, Panthers' standout Alicia Talancon had an open look at the net on a fast break. However, the freshman could not convert the golden opportunity, missing just wide to the left.
Ten minutes later, Margaret Shields had a nice shot attempt in the box for the Panthers, but Lacy made a great play on the ball, diving to her left to save the goal.
"That was a big play to keep the game scoreless there," FitzGerald said of Lacy's save.
Starting the second half, Menlo made some team-wide adjustments, as FitzGerald implored his group to try and keep the ball on the ground.
"Putting the ball on the ground is definitely something that's important, especially against a team as physical as (Priory)," Stritter said. "We're not always going to win the ball in the air, since some of our players are shorter. We have good dribblers . . . and when the ball is in the air we can't play our game."
Menlo's ground attack, and overall crisper passing, created more looks for the Knight around the goal, as Menlo put up 15 shots on goal in the second half.
Stritter scored her first goal of the second half by following up Amanda McFarland's partially blocked shot at the net, and placing the ball just inside the right post.
Her second goal came by way of a fastbreak opportunity, as Wickers passed the ball up the field, and Stritter again converted around the net for the final goal of the game.
"Both goals were really close, and well set up by my teammates. I couldn't have done it without them," Stritter said.
For Saturday's matchup against Sacred Heart Prep, FitzGerald is confident in his team's abilities, but acknowledged it would take one of the Knights' better performances to come out with a win.
"We've obviously proven that we're the two best teams," FitzGerald said. "It's going to be a very close game. We're going to have to play two great halves against them."
Sacred Heart Prep advanced to its first title match since 2009 with a 4-0 victory over No. 7 Scotts Valley (13-5-5) at Westmont High on Wednesday.
The Gators rolled to a 3-0 halftime lead behind goals from Brigid White, Olivia Athens and Meagan Terpening. Tierna Davidson provided assists on the second and third goal.
The final goal was an own goal as a shot bounced off a Scotts Valley player.
In the girls' Division I semifinals, No. 2 Palo Alto (11-5-5) kept it close until the end and dropped a 2-0 decision to SCVAL De Anza Division rival Los Gatos at Westmont High.
The No. 3 Wildcats (11-4-5) scored in the 23rd and 67th minutes and kept SCVAL De Anza Division MVP Jacey Pederson off the scoreboard. The Vikings missed junior Lena Chang, who suffered an eye injury in the quarterfinals. Paly will return all but four graduating seniors -- Jess Branson, Sunny Lyu, Julia Kwasnick and Megan Tall.