COVINGTON — Paul Laurence Dunbar gave the defending state champions quite a game Monday, but it wasn't quite enough.
Ellie Vandergriff's goal with 33:03 left gave third-ranked Notre Dame a 1-0 victory over the Bulldogs in girls' Semi-State play at Dixie Heights.
"This is a special group," Dunbar Coach Tom Morgan said. "We set goals at the beginning of the year. We wanted to get to this point. They fought, they battled, they did everything we asked in practice, they got better throughout the season. I think we peaked at the right time and we had a nice little run."
The victorious Pandas (19-4-1) advance to the quarterfinals of the girls' State Tournament, where they will meet Russell at Lafayette, Saturday at 6 p.m.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Vandergriff's game-winning shot came from the right wing, about 30 yards out. She placed the ball perfectly in the upper left corner of the net.
"That is where all my goals have been this year," the sophomore said. "It's all been outside the 18. ... I guess it's just my sweet spot."
No. 16 Dunbar (17-7) packed in its defense with a 4-5-1 alignment.
"We just wanted to play good, solid defense," Morgan said. "We preached all day 'make them do something special to score' and hopefully we can keep them out of the back of the net. Unfortunately they did. They had a fantastic goal. Ellie Vandergriff did a fantastic job of placing the ball in the backside net. That was a great shot."
David Gronotte, coach of the Pandas, wasn't surprised.
"We knew the way they played defense, they just kept dropping deeper and deeper," he said. "We kept trying to push them with our strikers. And we knew what that was going to do was open up the space in between about the 18 and 40 yards out. So we knew that was going to be our space where the opportunities were going to come from. I didn't quite know it was going to come that deep."
Dunbar just missed converting with a little over nine minutes left.
Reilly Teal set up Alyssa Montgomery for a shot, but the ball went barely wide left.
"When we started pushing, we almost got one at the end," Morgan said. "It's unfortunate. I just told my coaches it's a game of inches, and unfortunately Lady Luck was not on our side tonight on that one."
In the scoreless first half, Notre Dame's Taylor Watts just missed connecting less than four minutes in. Dunbar goalkeeper Morgan Tallio got just enough of Watts' shot to deflect it wide right.
The Bulldogs' lone shot of the half, by Keke Sidney, came with about 3½ minutes left and was gobbled up by Notre Dame goalkeeper Courtney Hansel.
There were more chances in the second half, including a Watts shot that hit off the crossbar.
Vandergriff finally found the range, though.
"It was all nerves, I'm going to be honest with you," she said. "I mean, halftime I was crazy nervous and ... after I scored all that was going through my head was my best friend who went out during the last game with a concussion (Christian Sherrard), I'm just thinking I'm playing for her, I'm playing for her."
Now, Notre Dame will be playing for a spot in the Final Four.
"I wish we could have gotten further, but we ran into a heck of a soccer team in Notre Dame," Morgan said. "They're very talented."
Notre Dame 1, Dunbar 0
Goal — ND: Ellie Vandergriff. Goalkeepers — D: Morgan Tallio; ND: Courtney Hansel. Records — Dunbar 17-7; Notre Dame 19-4-1.