Girls soccer: L-P changes plan against Morris, advances to first regional final

Streator’s season ends with loss to Morton

L-P's Litzy Lopez hi-fives teammate Abigal Poole after scoring a goal against Morris during the Class 2A Regional semifinal game on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at the L-P Athletic Complex in La Salle.

After losing twice to Morris during the regular season, the La Salle-Peru girls soccer team spent weeks implementing a new game plan for its third meeting between the two teams in a Class 2A La Salle-Peru Regional semifinal.

The new approach centered around L-P sophomore Vicky Tejada shadowing prolific Morris scorer Ella McDonnell, who hurt the Cavaliers in the first two meetings.

The strategy worked to perfection.

Tejada shut down McDonnell, the rest of the L-P defense kept Morris’ other players off the scoreboard, and Abigail Poole scored less than four minutes into the match to give the No. 6 Cavaliers a 1-0 victory over No. 4 Morris on Wednesday.

“We’ve been training for this game for three weeks,” L-P coach Christin Pappas said. “We had a specific style of play for today and we nailed it. Every single girl did their exact job, so I couldn’t be happier.”

With the win, the Cavs (14-7-1), who already set the school record for wins in a season, advance to a regional title game for the first time in program history.

“It feels good,” Poole said. “I think as a team, together we accomplished it. It’s not only one person. I feel like we worked so hard to be able to beat this team and every other team we’ve beaten to get to this place.”

L-P will face No. 1 Morton (15-2-1) at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The Potters advanced with a 9-0 win over No. 7 Streator in Wednesday’s first semifinal.

“It will be a tough game,” L-P senior Nica Hein said. “But I know the girls will battle. I know they’ll be tough. I know it’ll be physical, but I know we’ll compete.”

On Wednesday, Tejada’s play against McDonnell, who finished the season with 33 goals, was key to the win.

“I was scared, but they would always put me in practice against (assistant) coach (Zach) Horton, and he’s a very good player,” Tejada said. “It was much easier to defend her than defending my coach.

“She’s really fast. I had to follow her everywhere and stop her.”

L-P's Katie Sowers kicks the ball away from Morris's Makensi Martin during the Class 2A Regional semifinal game on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at the L-P Athletic Complex in La Salle.

With Tejada handling McDonnell, Hein and the other defenders cleaned up any balls that got through to keep Morris off the scoreboard.

“Our two outsides would attack any ball coming through and I would take the long ball,” Hein said. “As (McDonnell) was shut down, any other girl I could beat out, so it made it easier for us to get ahead and stay ahead.”

Despite L-P’s strong defense, Morris had several strong chances in the second half, including a header off a corner kick that hit the post, two free kicks that sailed over the net in the final 11:27 and a shot over the crossbar with 21 seconds left.

“We didn’t play well. We couldn’t connect,” Morris coach David Valdivia said. “They marked our best player and did a really good job. They were well prepared, and I give them applause for that.

“The second half we changed it up. We said if it gets down to the last 10 minutes we were going to push up our fast players and risk the backline. I felt like we were really connecting then and were getting our shots off and we just couldn’t finish.”

The Cavs finished early when Poole received a pass from Danica Scoma, dribbled up toward the top of the box and fired a shot past the Morris keeper with 35:26 left in the first half for her 16th goal of the season.

“I was playing top, and I was just waiting for the ball to get to me,” Poole said. “I saw Dan, and that’s when I started running and hoped it got to my feet and I just kicked it in.

“It felt really good. I’m not playing top most of the time. It’s always wing, so mostly I feel like I’m passing it to whoever is in the middle, so it felt really good to score when we just started the game.”

Morris finishes 13-6-1.

“We had a great season,” Valdivia said. “We got third in conference. We got first at the Princeton tournament. (McDonnell) scored 33 goals, so it was a great season. We had a lot of good things. It was unfortunate today we didn’t come prepared.”

Morton 9, Streator 0: The Potters scored seven goals in the first half and ended the game early on a goal with 2:05 left.

“We played one of the top teams in the state today,” Streator coach JT Huey said. “They put on a clinic. The girls had a good season. They knew they were going up against a tough opponent. It’s a different game than we’re used to playing. It’s a very technical game. Ball control was perfect with (Morton) all the time. All you can ask is they put out effort and they did. They kept battling.”

The Bulldogs finish 11-11-3.

“We had a couple records broken,” Huey said. “Alyssa Arambula now has the season and career assists record. We had a freshman (Audrey Arambula) that was one away from tying the season goal record. We have a lot to look forward to and there’s a lot of development coming up. Overall, we played some very tough competition and the girls got better from it.”

Streator's Joey Puetz kicks the ball out of the box area against Morton during the Class 2A Regional semifinal game on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at the L-P Athletic Complex in La Salle.
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