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No offense for La Porte

October 5, 2018

SOUTH BEND — In football – the American version, we mean – there’s an old saying that “the best offense is a good defense.”

But in soccer, ahh … not so much.

Playing virtually the entire game on defense, deep in its own end of the field, La Porte’s girls fell to two-time defending state champion Penn, 4-0, in the Class 3A sectional soccer semifinals Thursday night.

The No. 5-ranked Kingsmen outshot the Slicers, 21-1, on a chilly evening at South Bend Riley’s Jackson Field. Penn (13-3-3) moves on to face Mishawaka for the sectional championship at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Mishawaka downed Riley, 6-0, in Thursday’s other semifinal tilt.

Penn’s superior speed and strength played havoc with LaPorte’s passing game, and the few times they crossed midfield, the Slicers were unable to get anything going. Their only real shot at a goal came late in the contest against the Kingsman reserves.

“You have to give it to Penn, they’re a really good team,” said LaPorte coach John White. “We tried to irritate them all night long and get them off their game plan, and I think we did that a little bit. But, you know, they are ranked (No. 5) for a reason.”

LaPorte (6-7-3) tried to force the Kingsmen into making errors early in the game. But much of Penn’s team plays together all year-round at the club level, and it’s tough to rattle girls who know where each other will be, even without looking.

“Our plan was to step up and pressure every ball,” said White. “That worked for a while, but (Penn’s girls) work together, they create space and they know how to move the ball.”

Penn got on the board early as Sydney Domal scored a solo goal with 24:37 remaining in the first half. Kingsman senior Maya Lacognato then took an assist from Elizabeth Capek at the 14:26 mark and made the score 2-0.

Seven seconds before the halftime buzzer sounded, Penn’s Grace Szklarek iced the decision. There was a scrum in front of LaPorte’s net, with a half dozen Slicers and Kingsmen all battling for the ball. Somehow, Szklarek got a foot on it and it rolled slowly into the net.

“We started slowly tonight,” said Penn coach Jeff Hart. “A lot of the credit goes to (LaPorte). They got in our passing lanes and were very aggressive defensively. It took us a while to adjust what we were trying to do.”

Despite the final score, LaPorte arguably had the star of the game. Sophomore goalie Brooklyn (Grace) Holt was fabulous, making some tremendous stops.

Don’t scoff. Given the onslaught of Penn shots that she faced, the fact the Kingsmen only scored four goals was a minor victory in itself.

“She played a really great game,” said White. “It says a lot about Grace because in July, she came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I want to try and play goalie.’ I said, ‘All right, give it a shot.’ And she’s done a fantastic job.”

Case in point: The Kingsmen had a half-dozen clear breakaways and didn’t score on any of them. Even the Penn coach was impressed.

“(LaPorte’s) goalie made a couple big saves and really kept them engaged,” he said. “That was a great performance.”

Unfortunately for Slicer fans they’ll have to wait until next year to see another one.

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