COLLEGE STATION – The Lorena girls’ soccer team took advantage of its best opportunities on its way through to the Class 4A Region III final.
The Leopards scored a goal in each half and clamped down on the Huffman Hargrave goal scorers to claim a 2-0 victory on Friday night at A&M Consolidated’s Tigerland Stadium.
With the win in the regional semifinal, Lorena is now one win away from the state tournament. The Leopards (23-5) face Lumberton at 4 p.m. Saturday back at Tigerland Stadium with the winner advancing on to state.
Lorena entered the regional semifinal tied for the No. 10 spot in the TGCA rankings. The Leopards were facing second-ranked Hargrave (24-4-2).
But Lorena looked like anything but the underdog as the Leopards players won ball after ball from the Falcons. Lorena stayed on the attack most of the night, even when Hargrave found itself in a two-goal deficit late in the match.
“Nothing matters except the game you’re in,” Lorena coach Ann Burnside said. “If you get wrapped up in the rankings, you come out here saying, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!’ As opposed to getting out there and taking care of business.”
The Leopards never wavered from a businesslike approach to winning and advancing against the Falcons.
The match was delayed almost as soon as it began as lightning in the area in the fourth minute forced a 30-minute break in the action.
When play resumed, forward Kaitlynne Jones found herself in perfect position to give Lorena a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute.
Katie Burnside sent a corner kick to Haley Flores, whose shot bounced off the cross bar. The ball rebounded in front of Jones in point-blank range and she put it in the back of the net.
“That’s always her first instinct is to put the ball on net,” Ann Burnside said. “She’s always looking to make that shot. When it bounced back out, K.J. just put it right back in the net.”
The Leopards took that 1-0 advantage to intermission following a first half in which they doubled up Hargrave in attacks. Jones had another shot on goal that was stopped by Hargrave goalkeeper Laynee Beam.
Lorena added to its lead in the 45th minute when Flores penetrated into the Hargrave penalty area, forcing Beam to make a physical play that resulted in a Leopards penalty kick.
Leopards midfielder Paizlee Whalen made good on the chance as she sent the PK into the right side of the goal for a 2-0 advantage.
“The girls were willing to move the ball,” Ann Burnside said. “We’ve got to make quick decisions and get to where that communication level and those passes are connecting. On that particular play, they were connecting down the field and that’s what created the situation and put their goalkeeper in a bad spot. She came out a little late and we were able to get the PK off of it.”
Lorena’s defense made sure the lead stood. Leopards Belle Hatton, Burnside and Whalen were tasked with marking Hargrave’s Hannah Long and Sydney Bray. The Lorena defense gelled and kept the Falcons from getting too many good looks at the goal.
On the one occasion when the organization broke down near the goal, Leopards goalkeeper Macy Kunze scrambled to cover up a loose ball and kept Hargrave off the scoreboard midway through the second half.
Lorena has now reached the regional final in each of the last two seasons. Jasper ended the Leopards’ run at this stage a year ago.