Lions move into tie for ESCC lead after blanking Nazareth
By Matt Le Cren
Saint Viator remained in the thick of the race for the East Suburban Catholic Conference championship by knocking off front-running Nazareth Academy 1-0 Wednesday afternoon in La Grange Park.
The victory, the fifth in the last six games for the Lions, came as no surprise to coach Mike Taylor.
"We've been on a roll," said Taylor, whose team is 7-3 in the last 10 games. "At the beginning of the season we had [players] hurt, we didn't have a full team."
Taylor Skala scored the only goal of the game for the Lions (13-8-1, 7-1), who snapped Nazareth's 11-game winning streak.
It was the 20th tally of the season for the junior forward and it came with 21:58 left in the second half.
Sophomore forward Katelyn Hammarlund passed it to the top of the box to Skala, who ran forward and fired a shot from the penalty spot that went inside the left post.
"Hammarlund kicked a nice through ball and I just touched it, kept my composure and slotted it right past [Roadrunners goalie Annmarie Chizewski]," Skala said.
"The hardest part is finishing for us. Coach Taylor is not a proud man. He'll take any goals that he gets whether it's ugly or not."
This effort by the Lions was anything but ugly. Saint Viator shut down Nazareth's speedy forwards and figured out how to get by the Roadrunners (17-2, 8-2) in the second half.
"I think in the first half we did a good job," Taylor said. "We connected. We just couldn't get that final touch to the net.
"The second half we decided to step the pressure up, play a little quicker. Once we forced them to mark us, they couldn't mark us.
"We put the ball to Taylor and those guys up front and made their defenders play some defense. Taylor is a bunch to handle up front."
Indeed she is. Skala took Taylor's advice to heart and nearly broke the scoreless tie just 1:15 after intermission.
That's when when she raced past a defender into the box and fired a left-footed shot from a sharp angle but just missed the right post.
Skala nearly netted an insurance goal with 8:05 left when she beat the charging Chizewski but couldn't catch up to the fast-rolling ball before it skittered inches wide of the right post.
"I think we talked a lot more and the [halftime] talk that we had really got us going," Skala said. "We didn't want to lose. We did not want to go home on the bus losers."
As a result, the Lions now control their own destiny. They can capture at least a share of the ESCC title by winning their final two games Saturday at Bishop McNamara and next Wednesday against visiting Carmel.
Benet Academy, which handed Saint Viator its only league loss, beat Carmel 1-0 Wednesday to move into first place tie with a 7-1 conference record. Nazareth finished 8-2 and Carmel is 6-2.
Why the sudden surge after a pedestrian 6-5-1? One reason is the return from injury of starting goalie Stephanie Shanahan.
The senior made five saves to earn the shutout and is 4-1 since getting healthy.
Another cause was Taylor's decision to move senior midfielder Ariana Kulinczenko to defense.
"We moved Ari to the back and without a doubt she's the best player on the field," Taylor said. "She solidifies the defense and keeps it calm."
"With that change we've been playing a lot better because she communicates well from the back," Skala said.
Taylor was pleased with the overall play of his defense, which held a Nazareth side that had scored nine goals in its previous game to just seven shots.
"I thought Ariana and [Meghan] McGrath played real well in the back," Taylor said. "Sammy [Gavin] and Molly [McMahon] played well in the midfield.
"I thought all four outside backs played well. We rotate them every 10 minutes and they played well because they gave good balls [to the] outside."
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