Katie Dougherty spent her first two springs at Lyons Township High School playing softball, but last year she opted to return to soccer, the sport she enjoyed most growing up.

She didn’t make the team. LTHS coach Bill Lanspeary said cutting her was the biggest mistake of his coaching career.

“She had taken time off from soccer and played softball and came back,” Lanspeary said. “It is one of the downsides to [having to hold] tryouts inside on a basketball court, where you can’t see what she gives us, and so that’s a huge coach’s mistake right there.

“Luckily I got a chance at redemption this year and she’s awesome. She’s been great.”

Dougherty has seven goals and six assists for the Lions, with much of that production coming in big games. None was bigger than the goal the senior scored to give host LTHS a 1-0 victory over rival Hinsdale Central last week.

The victory clinched the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship for the Lions (15-3, 5-0), who had lost their last three meetings with the Red Devils (11-4, 4-1). Hinsdale Central has also eliminated LTHS from the state playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

“This one feels good,” said LTHS senior Emily Lange, a four-year starter who leads the team in scoring with eight goals. “We lost conference and we got knocked out in a regional final my sophomore year and then the sectional final last year. This is definitely a big win and I think we’re all very excited to get this win under our belt.”

Lange nearly gave the Lions the lead 40 seconds into the second half but her 15-yard bullet was deflected wide by Hinsdale Central goalie Katy Coseglia.

But the Lions broke through with 9:53 remaining. Lange sent a lead pass up the right wing to Margaret Lynch, who beat a defender into the box. Coseglia rushed out of the net but Dougherty beat her to the ball. Dougherty’s shot was blocked by Coseglia but Dougherty scored on the rebound.

“The first shot she saved and then we got a lucky bounce and it hit a lot of people and ended up right back in front of me and it was an easy deflection to the back of the net,” Dougherty said. “They have a great defensive line but that was just one great play by Margaret [Lynch] to break them down to get through.”

The Red Devils were unable to break through the Lions’ veteran back line led by Sarah Drew, Grace Nasenbenny, Catherine King and CC Holbert, who allowed only four shots. Junior goalie Lidia Breen made three saves to record the Lions’ 12th shutout, including a great diving stop on a one-timer by Alison Cerny with 35:20 to go in the game.

Any victory over Hinsdale Central is special for the Lions but this was particularly so for Dougherty because it was her debut in the fierce rivalry.

“It’s amazing,” Dougherty said. “This team is truly amazing and I’m really happy that I was able to play with them. Hinsdale is our biggest rival so this really just felt great.”

The Lions have played well all season but may be peaking at the right time.

“We really had the momentum the whole game and I think that’s something this season we’ve kind of been, not lacking, but struggling to get to a point where we’re going full force the whole game,” Lange said. “So I think this game we really wanted it more. This was the first time we really got everything together and kept the momentum going.”

LTHS and Hinsdale Central could meet again in the Class 3A Downers Grove South Sectional final on May 30 as the Red Devils are seeded first and the Lions second. The Lions may have gained a psychological edge but know they have to win three games to get to the rematch.

 “[This win] is definitely important,” Lange said. “I think if we play them again we can’t get it in our head that, ‘oh, we’ve already beaten them once,’ because they’re going to come out just as hard.”