Lions fall behind early, can't recover against Tigers
By Mike Garofola
Saint Viator finished Thursday's Pepsi Showdown match with Plainfield North in a very encouraging fashion.
Unfortunately for the Lions, a pair of late scores were not enough to help them overcome a three-goal deficit to the Tigers.
North jumped out to the early advantage and led throughout as it claimed a 4-3 victory in over Saint Viator in Arlington Heights.
"We really missed (Meghan) McGrath today, because when she and Jackie Tumburger, another senior, are back there, we're a lot stronger defensively," offered Saint Viator head coach Mike Taylor on the absence of star defender Meghan McGrath (hip) on this day.
"We were sloppy all throughout the ballgame and gave up too many opportunities to a team that knew how to take advantage of our poor play along the back," said Taylor, who is hoping the quick return of McGrath will help his backline regain its confidence.
The Lions coach was quick to say it was no excuse for the poor effort (defensively) by his club, which was unable to mark or tackle with the consistency needed to slow down a rampant attack by the Tigers.
North (8-2-0) looked like it had wrapped things up after it grabbed a 4-1 advantage over the Lions (5-3-0) late in the match.
But instead of just rolling over, Saint Viator found new life, thanks to the energy provided by Molly McMahon, Connie Kulczycki and Katie Gavin in the middle, and from Tumberger, who went forward on more occasions.
Skala made it 4-2 at 76 minutes off a Tumberger freekick, then went past a fallen Paige Polonus, North's keeper, at the near post at the tail-end of a scrum inside the six-yard box.
The Lions' furious comeback would end for good, when an incredibly long second half, fueled by far too many stoppages, including a bizarre sequence following the Barr injury, which resulted in a yellow-card booking, which would require far too many words to even try to explain.
"To me, if we played the first 70 minutes the way we played the last 10, maybe we force overtime, or even better," surmised Taylor.
"We will build from (that) last 70 minutes when we train tomorrow, and hopefully take that into our match with Andrew on Saturday at the Pepsi.
"We're still a work in progress, and there's a lot of soccer still to be played."
The Tigers, who've upgraded their schedule significantly this season, were happy to run into another quality program that they hope better prepares them for conference play.
"We need to get out and away from the Southwest Prairie (Conference) to see how other teams play, and (their) different styles of play, so driving 90-plus minutes to play a quality team like Saint Viator makes a lot of sense," said North coach Jane Crowe.
The long ride obviously didn't slow or hamper the Tigers, who began with plenty of pace and energy right from the opening whistle, putting together a terrific quarter hour of soccer.
That span featured great work-rate in the middle of the park, which in turn found far too many touches for North's talented youngsters up top, Callie O'Donnell and Ashley Handwork, than the homeside would have liked.
"We had a great warm-up and we were ready to go from the very beginning," said the sophomore O'Donnell, who along with her freshmen mate up top, proved far too quick, on and away from the ball, for the Lions backline.
"Speed is our game," smiled O'Donnell, of what her and Handwork provide for her club and Crowe and the staff.
Handwork would help give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 18 minutes when she raced up the right side, before finding Katie Cox who would go (low) the other way and past the outstretched keeper Stephanie Shanahan.
The goal culminated a terrific first quarter hour of soccer from the Tigers, bolstered by the play of Anna O'Donnell, Ashley Auble and Stephanie Barr in the middle, who seemed to win every 50-50 or second-ball, whether in the air or on the floor.
Barr would easily convert her PK at 22 minutes, after both Paige Slowik and Callie O'Donnell initiated trouble inside the Lions box, which resulted in O'Donnell being brought down by her defender.
The senior Barr later had to be helped off at 66 minutes with what appeared to be an ankle injury, and would not return, her status for Saturday still questionable.
The homeside would struggle to go through its own midfield the entire first half, and for a brief time after intermission, thanks in part to the aforementioned trio from North.
However, despite its failure to possess, leading scorer Taylor Skala brought the Lions back to life.
The junior would make it 2-1 at 28 minutes in close on the turn for her seventh of the season.
But Handwork would restore the Tigers two-goal cushion when the homeside would fail to clear - then paying the price dearly for it.
Katelyn Hammarlund, who had a strong effort alongside Skala all afternoon, broke free from a pair of defenders just before the break, but was unable to capitalize, then it was teammate Ariana Kulinczenko's turn in close, only to have her drive blocked.
"We have been starting all of our games very strong the entire season, and today was no exception," said Crowe, who thought the early 2-0 lead was vital to the Tigers' eventual victory.
Most of the play up until the hour mark was seen between both clubs' 18-yard line, although a Barr header in close sailed wide of the bar, while her well-placed freekick forced keeper Shanahan to pull it out of a crowd near the spot.
Taylor would push Kulinczenko forward to join both Skala and Hammarlund to add more numbers to the Lions' attack, and the move slowly began to make a difference as the hosts looked to bite into the North lead.
"We asked the girls to play a little more conservative, but we kind of got away from what we were doing so well in the first half, and Saint Viator was able to get back into this match," offered Crowe.
Sami Smith did well on the retreat to block a strike by Hammarlund at the near post in the 68th minute, then it was Tigers' keeper Polonus who would punch a well-aimed corner moments later.
The loose ball fell to an anxious Tumburger, who drove her shot over the bar from in close.
Despite this trouble, the Tigers grabbed another goal when Katie Cox sent Callie O'Donnell through, and after two quick steps, the sophomore was in on Shanahan before finding the back of the net.