WHS vs Mac soccer sect champ 17.jpg

Western seniors Mollie Smith (15) and Hannah Isaac (13) celebrate with teammates after the Panthers beat Maconaquah 5-0 in the championship game of the Class 2A Mississinewa Girls Soccer Sectional on Saturday afternoon in Gas City. Smith and Isaac have been part of four straight Panther squads that won sectional titles.

GAS CITY — The title holders aren’t ready to loosen their grip on the hardware.

Western’s girls soccer team didn’t enter the Class 2A Mississinewa Sectional as the favorite. After all the Panthers had lost twice to Northwestern in the regular season. They exit the tourney still on top, still holding the hardware for the fourth year in a row.

The Panthers finished this year’s sectional run with a 5-0 victory over Maconaquah on Saturday afternoon. After a scoreless opening 10 minutes, Western broke down the door with a four-goal flurry to take control.

“This one here [against Maconaquah] is satisfying, but the more satisfying one was Thursday when we defeated the odds,” Western coach Abby Workman said. Western beat NW 1-0 in Thursday’s semis. “Northwestern’s coach had mentioned that they were preparing for regionals at one point in the paper and I’m like, ‘Well, you’ve got to get through us first.’ I think these girls just really showed their resiliency and we’ve lost quite a few players. We started the season with 25 and I brought 17 [Saturday]. Just coming in without the numbers the last couple games even put us more as underdogs.

“We fought all that adversity. Just to come forward, not being favored, and still win it just shows that we’re starting to go in a better direction at the end of our season, which is what you want.”

Maddy Parr converted a penalty for Western in the 10th minute. A minute later the Panthers had their second goal when Parr moved into the box to shoot. She was blocked off by Mac’s defense, but the ball came back to her to smash a goal to the left side netting.

Two minutes after that, it was Abigail Fouts’ turn to stretch the left side of the net with a blast from the right side of the box. In the 22nd minute, a swift move from defense to attack saw Madison Cook and Liza Szerdy transition the ball quickly upfield to put Lucy Weigt free on the left side of the box to score. The four-goal flurry took 11 minutes and 38 seconds.

“Right before the PK we just weren’t taking the shots we had, kept trying to pass and trying to dribble, and trying to pass and trying to dribble. I was like, ‘Guys, just start taking your shots,’” Workman said. “We got the PK, then we started taking our shots. It always takes breaking them in, like one goal to get confident.”

By the time the Panthers (9-8-2) scored, they were winning the action in midfield and allowed Maconaquah very few chances to generate offense after that. After giving up three goals against Oak Hill in an opening-round win, the Panthers have posted two straight shutouts.

Workman said the improved defensive play has come from “us the last two or three weeks really doing a lot of marking drills in practice, working on not giving them time and space to pass, because if you eliminate space, you eliminate the passing, you’ll eliminate goals, because you need all three of those to get up and score. If we just eliminate space by being marked up better, you’ll eliminate chances.”

Weigt finished the scoring in the second half with a header off a corner kick in the 53rd minute. Mac goalie Hayleigh Cole had 10 saves.

Western advances to face Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger at 10 a.m. next Saturday in the Marion Regional. The second semifinal pits Yorktown vs. Bellmont. The semifinal winners meet at 7 for the title.

“Don’t ever doubt the underdogs,” Workman said. “That’s kind of how we’ve been looking at it since we won the first sectional. That’s been our team mentality and we’ve kept it going.”

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