Hours before Centennial High’s regular-season finale, Patriots girls soccer coach Steven Snider’s phone buzzed.
The text message informed him that his top defender, Grace Pekovich, couldn’t make the game. Her parents were rushing her to the emergency room. Doctors there diagnosed a kidney infection, placed her on an IV drip, and prescribed a round of antibiotics and a week of bed rest.
But a week after lying in an emergency room bed, the junior led the Patriots to a successful defense of their district title. And on Thursday, she spearheaded a dominant defensive performance as Centennial blanked Highland 4-0 in the first round of the 5A state tournament at Meridian High.
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“She felt her first two games back that she played horribly,” Snider said. “She didn’t play horribly. Grace at 90 percent is still better than most of the defenders in our league.”
Pekovich controlled the defensive end Thursday as Makayla Christensen scored twice for the Patriots (17-2-0), who advanced to face Lake City (9-1-4) in the state semifinals at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Rocky Mountain. Jade Maldonado and Josie Bush also scored in the 4-0 win.
Pekovich first experienced back pain a week before going to the hospital. But she chalked it up to a tough collision and opted to ice it.
When the pain didn’t subside and she started shaking with chills in class Oct. 2, she gave in and went to St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center. The first round of antibiotics didn’t take, but a booster shot Oct. 5 finally turned the tide against the infection.
Pekovich admitted she didn’t ask for a timeline to return to the field because she didn’t want anyone telling her how long she had to remain sidelined.
“It’s not fun sitting out,” Pekovich said. “I just don’t like it. And I love playing with the girls. My best friends are all graduating, so it’s their last year and I wanted to miss out on as little as possible.”
After starting her first game as a freshman center back three years ago, Pekovich had missed just one game for a college visit to Eastern Washington before her emergency room visit forced her to miss two more. So after sitting out the district quarterfinals Oct. 7, she vowed to not remain on the sideline another day.
A three-mile run Oct. 8 — her first exercise since going to the emergency room — convinced Snider to put her back in the lineup for the district semifinals Oct. 9 against Boise. She led a back line that shut out Boise in the semifinals, held Borah to one goal in the district championship and then smothered Highland on Thursday, limiting the Rams to three shots.
Snider said Pekovich entered the program as a quiet, unassuming freshman who kept to herself. But that hid an intensity on the field that has since drawn scholarship offers from Idaho, Hawaii and Eastern Washington. She also has a visit scheduled for Gonzaga next week.
“She had this fierceness to her competitiveness that was different from the quietness in her personality,” Snider said. “Combine that with her physical and soccer skill, and also add in she’s really, really consistent, and you just have the makings of a great player.”
Centennial’s second straight semifinal matchup with Lake City gives the Patriots a chance at revenge. Lake City ended Centennial’s bid for a third straight state title last year with a 3-2 victory, thanks to a golden goal a minute into overtime.
The two teams also met in the 2015 championship, with Centennial winning on penalty kicks.
“It’ll be fun,” Pekovich said. “We’re all looking forward to the game and want redemption.”
CLASS 5A: Defending state champ Lake City advanced to the semifinals against Centennial with a 1-0 victory over Eagle on a 52nd-minute goal from Madyson Smith.
On the bottom half of the bracket, Mountain View (11-4-4) rolled to a 3-0 win over East Idaho champ Madison. And Rocky Mountain (14-6-2) upset SIC regular-season champ Borah 2-1 on a pair of Brynna Herridge goals.
The Mavericks and Grizzlies meet in a semifinal at 2 p.m. Friday at Rocky Mountain.
CLASS 4A: Brenna Rill scored twice as Skyview scored the upset of the day, knocking off previously perfect East Idaho power Century 2-1. The Hawks (17-3-0) face Sandpoint (10-3-1) at 2 p.m. Friday at Caldwell’s Brothers Park in the semifinals.
Two more teams from the SIC will join Skyview in the semis. Vallivue (14-5-1) edged Twin Falls 4-3 as Abigail Bufford scored twice, and Lauren Elwer netted a hat trick to lead Bishop Kelly (20-0-0) to its 40th straight win with a 4-0 victory over Skyline.
The Falcons and Knights also meet at 2 p.m. Friday at Brothers Park.
CLASS 3A: Liz Perez scored three of Weiser’s four goals in a 4-0 rout of Timberlake. The Wolverines (16-1-1) face Shelley (16-2-0) in the semifinals at 2 p.m. Friday at Vallivue High.
CLASS 5A: Defending state champ Boise (16-1-1) crushed Madison 7-0 to roll into an 11:30 a.m. semifinal at Eagle High. The Braves face North Idaho champ Post Falls (11-3-0), a 3-1 winner over Rocky Mountain.
Borah (13-4-1) edged Coeur d’Alene 2-0 as Armin Hasanovic set up goals by Hayden Sutton Jones and Ahmed Ibrahimovic. The Lions take on East Idaho champ Hillcrest (13-1-3) at 2 p.m. at Eagle after the Knights edged Mountain View 1-0.
CLASS 4A: Jesus Gonzalez and Leonardo Luna both scored to lead Caldwell (13-4-3) to a 2-1 upset win over undefeated Blackfoot, one of four unbeaten teams to fall during the first round of the boys and girls tournaments. The Cougars face Sandpoint (13-1-2) in a 2 p.m. semifinal Friday at Brothers Park.
Ridgevue (18-1-2) also advanced to the semis with a 3-1 win over Idaho Falls. Martin Guerrero scored twice and set up Hector Pena’s goal for the Warhawks, who take on Wood River (15-2-1) at 2 p.m. Friday at Brothers Park.
CLASS 3A: Cristian Sanchez headed in a golden goal in the first overtime as Weiser topped Bonners Ferry 4-3 to advance to a 2 p.m. Friday semifinal against Community School (17-3-0) at Vallivue.