RUSSIAVILLE — For eight minutes, Western’s girls soccer team did what only one opponent had done all season against Leo — held a lead.
Then, Leo equalized and went about the business of showing why it still has not lost this season.
Leo and Western went into halftime tied 1-1. That was only the second time Leo had given up a goal all season, and only the second time that Leo had been behind. The Lions then scored three goals after halftime to take a 4-1 victory in the opening round of Class 2A regional play at Western.
“Definitely after they scored the second goal, they turned it on, coming at us,” Western coach Sam Parr said. “We changed it up and moved to three backs, trying to move more pressure forward, and they kept coming back at us. They had too much for us. They’re a good team.”
Tenth-ranked Leo takes an 18-0-2 record into Saturday’s regional final against No. 15 Hamilton Heights. No. 13 Western ends its season 17-3-2.
Western got on the board first with a goal in the 19th minute. Operating as a lone striker guarded by two and sometimes three defenders, Lucy Weigt fought a ball free in the attacking zone. Panther midfielder Audrey Rassel picked up possession and slipped a pass back up to Weigt at the edge of Leo’s defensive line. Weigt beat a defender and moved in to score low to the near post as Leo’s goalie came out to narrow the angle.
Leo equalized in the 27th minute when a Western defender slipped trying to clear a ball, and the rest of the Panther defense couldn’t get it out of the danger area before Taylor Swygart stabbed home a shot from inside the box. The game was 1-1 for the rest of the first half.
The game turned quickly in the second half. Leo took the lead on a corner in the 42nd minute. The corner bounced off a Western defender into the path of Leo’s Ella Graves to score from close range. Three minutes later, speedy Leo midfielder Audrey Abel bodied off a Western defender near the left elbow and curled a nice shot to the far post’s top corner. In less than five minutes of the second half, Leo was up 3-1 and in control.
“We just stuck with it,” Leo coach Mike Bitler said. “In the first half we got opportunities, opportunities and nothing was really falling so at halftime we told the girls ‘you have to [score] in the first five minutes.’ That was my challenge to them and they responded with two goals in the first five minutes of the second half. Then we just stayed on them, stayed on them.”
Western had a chance to cut into the lead in the 53rd minute, with nearly half an hour left. Leo was called for a handball in the box and Western’s Maddy Parr stepped up to take the penalty kick. But Leo’s goalie saved the shot to her right side and kept the Lions in control.
Abel added another goal in the 69th minute to ice the game.
“Once we missed the PK, it kind of deflated them, and it definitely picked Leo up,” Sam Parr said. “They were just worn down by the end of the game.”
Western goalie Kyndal Mellady had five saves. She’s part of a big class of nine juniors on the squad. The Panthers will graduate six seniors off this team, which won the Hoosier Conference title and the Panthers’ fifth straight sectional title.
“Fantastic season, I’m not disappointed at all,” Sam Parr said. “I thought the girls did an awesome job. I hate for the seniors — yeah, they were upset, but I think they understand how great a season this was for the school. They’ll hang their heads high and know they did a fantastic job this year.”