Lions overcome bad weather, Tigers to win regional
By Mike Garofola
Saint Viator stepped things up another gear in Friday's Class 2A Crystal Lake Central Regional championship.
Coach Mike Taylor's squad won 4-0 over the hosts on a rainy afternoon in Crystal Lake to advance into the Lakes sectional next Tuesday afternoon.
The top-seeded Lions (17-8-1) would never allow the Tigers (12-6-0) to create a serious attempt on frame and its keeper Stephanie Shanahan, who had an easy times of things.
That was thanks, in part, to her backline of Meghan McGrath, Ariana Kulinczenko and Jackie Tumberger, and enough timely attacking power from the usual suspects to force the Tigers to defend far more than they would have hoped.
"(Saint Viator) just had too much for us to contend with, and that No. 22 (Taylor Skala) was easily the most physically dominating striker that we've seen all year along," said Central head coach Joe Schroeder, who has seen plenty of Amy Wronski from Huntley all-season long to use as a comparison.
"I really felt like our confidence was beginning to grow leading up to the first stoppage for lightning (today) but after that 20-minute (weather) break, we never really found that same energy and pace, and it was all Saint Viator after that."
Schroeder was likely correct in his assessment.
The Lions struggled with their own pace, playing far too quickly and with little composure in the first quarter hour, allowing the home side to dictate play with their ability to win balls and tackle fiercely in the middle.
That was pretty much the way that Taylor expected after reading the scouting report turned in from his assistant, T.J. King.
"T.J. was right on," Taylor said. "Central plays hard and they throw a body on you everywhere you go, and we just didn't respond and actually played a very ugly first half."
The Lions rarely staged any type of threat up until lightning halted play at 25 minutes, and after the customary time required by the IHSA for the skies to clear, they ESCC co-champs still were unable to take advantage of the way the Tigers played their sweeper, Mary Grace Thomas so deeply in their own end.
Until the 33rd minute. That's when Katelyn Hammarlund weaved her way through open space on the right side, and eventually caught up to a finely-sent low ball from Skala before slotting past Tigers keeper Cory Gustin.
Three minutes before intermission, it was all Skala, who showed her athletic form with a dazzling move to turn her mark, then beat Gustin, before going into the back of the net.
"That goal right before the break did us in," admitted Schroder.
Another weather-related delay, followed by a steady, sometimes hard rain was part of the story in the second half, as was a sensational free kick blast and goal from McGrath from 45 yards at 51 minutes to all but seal the fate of the Tigers.
The senior tri-captain would finish things off two minutes later when she collected Samatha Gavin's corner from the far flag, and on the turn, fired into the net from just outside the area.
"I didn't think we played as well as we could in the first half, but our defense did its job while we figured everything (else) out to help us get the win that we needed," said McGrath.
"Sometimes a team needs to win an ugly game like this in order to get over the hump," offered Taylor.
"It wasn't pretty out there today, with the rain and the other conditions. But we got out of here with the victory, against a very well-coached team, that played hard, and kept us working all throughout the match.
"Now we're one game closer to reaching our goal."
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