Pope John Paul II had the experience.
University High, meanwhile, had the defense.
On Thursday in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Division III girls’ soccer championship, defense prevailed.
U-High of Baton Rouge dominated the Jaguars, scored two late goals and won the Division III state title with a 3-1 victory over Pope John Paul II on Thursday evening at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park.
Second-seeded U-High (23-1-3) had allowed only six goals all season going into the title match. The Cubs string of 16 consecutive shutouts ended in the semifinals, but the defense remained stellar against PJP II. The Cubs outshot the Jaguars 14-5, with two goals coming from game MVP Kate McKowen, who was playing her first match in two weeks after being out with a concussion.
Pope John Paul II (14-5-5) had outscored opponents 19-1 in four previous playoff matches but struggled to find its game against the Cubs.
“They had us on the back foot from the beginning,” said PJP II coach J.B. Mahoney. “They definitely were the better team today.”
U-High cracked the scoreboard first when the Cubs gathered the ball in the PJP II box during the 10th minute. McKowen found the ball at her feet and drilled a shot to the upper left corner over the outstretched arms of Jaguars goalkeeper Alexis Molero. It was the Cubs’ third shot on goal early in the half. McKowen was assisted on the shot by senior captain Alyssa Strupp.
PJP couldn’t find its rhythm in the first half, with U-High dropping back nine players on defense when the Jaguars had the ball. It was clear that the offense had been stymied late in the half when PJP II’s top offensive threats, Marlena and Christina Cutura, both attempted to bring the ball up the field on separate occasions. They were met by walls of U-High defenders who clogged passing lanes and cleared the ball for the Cubs.
In turn, when the Cubs possessed the ball, they tended to lob deep passes over the midfield, which also seemed to get the Jaguars out of flow.
The early stats were telling with U-High outshooting PJP II 7-0 in the first half.
Marlena Cutura came out firing in the 41st minute when she got in close range of the Cubs’ box and fired a shot that traveled just off the crossbar. Though the attempt was off the mark, it gave notice that the Jaguars would not fade without a fight. Their next shot didn’t come until the 52nd minute, though, and it was saved easily by Cubs goalie Elizabeth Bankhead.
But five minutes later, Christina Cutura tied the score. On a long breakaway, she looped the ball over the extended arms of Bankhead and the shot rolled to the bottom right corner of the U-High net. Marlena Cutura assisted on the shot that tied the score at 1.
U-High regained the lead in the 69th minute when Mary Nader streaked up the right sideline and caught Molero charging the ball. Nader slipped a shot into the bottom left corner off an assist from Kirby Miller. The slick pass-and-shot combo lifted the Cubs to a 2-1 lead. McKowen scored again from close range in the 77th minute.
“It was very frustrating,” Christina Cutura said. “Our defense had a hard time just getting it up when we needed to. That one extra touch made a big difference. I think that’s what happened to us. They made us hold onto the ball just a second too long for us to be able to do much of anything.”
Mahoney said U-High’s second goal changed the complexion of the game after his Jaguars grabbed momentum on Cutura’s goal.
“It was a class shot all the way,” he said. “They beat our best defender. And then we couldn’t get anything going in the last 10 minutes. They saw the game out like good teams do.”
Still, U-High coach Melissa Ramsey said her team couldn’t let up against the defending state champs.
“I never thought it was in hand until the whistle blew,” she said.
“You just never know with this sport. But it was a great match.”