After two earlier losses to the Pope John Paul II girls soccer team, Division IV, District 5 rival Hannan was hoping the third time was the charm.
On Friday night, it was. And what a win it turned out to be.
Hannan earned a berth in the Division IV state championship game with a gutsy 1-0 semifinal playoff win over the homestanding Jaguars at Lester Latino Stadium in Slidell.
Hannan (21-4-2) will face Newman, 1-0 winner over Catholic-New Iberia, in the Division IV title game Wednesday at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans’ City Park.
Pope John Paul II, which defeated Hannan in the Hawks’ tournament in November and also in a district game in late January, was hoping to reach the state final for their third consecutive season.
The difference in Friday’s game was Hannan goalkeeper Mikayla Boyer. The freshman played stood out against the Jaguars, thwarting shots with an aggressive style that kept the home team off balance. Pope John Paul II (15-5-1) had many of its 12 shots on goal stopped by Boyer, and she probably intimidated a few that sailed high or wide rather than into her open arms.
“I was praying back there the entire time,” she said. “I try not to think about it. There’s nothing in my way when I try to make a save.”
Boyer saw plenty action early, as the Jaguars came out firing in the opening minutes. PJP’s Marlena Cutura, an LSU commitment, shot a ball wide in the second minute, and Aubrie Spring then had a pair of attempts stopped by Boyer.
The half ended scoreless, with Pope John Paul II outshooting Hannan 9-1.
The second half was almost a reverse of the first, with Hannan dictating pace. The Hawks took two shots in the first three minutes and scored in the 48th minute. The score came when senior Elizabeth Frank burst down the right sideline and hooked a shot that curled into the net at the far post.
Down by a goal, Cutura looked to even the score when she streaked down the field and laced a shot, but Boyer was there for a key save. In the 73rd minute, Spring outran the Hawks defense to the box, but her attempt was just wide of the left post.
“Mikayla was just phenomenal tonight,” Hannan coach Jerry Kennedy said. “And we knew we had to contain Marlena. We marked her with Katie Dittman and Ashley Burke.
“We had her double marked the entire game, and they did a great job.”
Kennedy said another element of the win was not changing gears after failing to find an offensive rhythm in the first half.
“We just told them to keep doing what we’ve been working on the past couple weeks, and good things will happen,” he said. “They did, and they just played better.”
PJP coach J.B. Mahoney said his biggest concern was manifested itself, but he gave Hannan credit with the win.
“My greatest fear was not taking (advantage of) our chances,” Mahoney said. “(Boyer) came up huge. I think if we got one in, maybe a couple more would have come too, but they never came. They got a look, and they put it in. Frank is a great player. We chased the game from there on out. We had some looks, but nothing went in. That’s the nature of the game.”