With their district already assured of a place in the Division III girls’ soccer state championship match, something had to give when District 8 rivals Pope John Paul II and St. Thomas Aquinas met in the semifinals.
The Falcons blinked, and the Jaguars seized momentum in decisive fashion.
Pope John Paul II, the defending Division III state champion and the eighth-seeded team in this year’s postseason, scored two early goals of the semifinal match (three in the first half) and eventually claimed a 4-0 win over the 12th-seeded Falcons on Thursday at Chappapeela Sports Park near Hammond.
The Jaguars now will defend their state title against the winner of the University Lab/Sacred Heart-New Orleans match, which is scheduled to be played Friday in Baton Rouge.
The Division III title match will be held at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans City Park at 5 p.m. Feb. 26.
“Early on (in the season), no,” said PJP coach J.B. Mahoney, when asked if he was confident his team had a chance to repeat as state finalists. “I knew we were very talented again, but I wasn’t sure we had the calmness that we had (last year). But we really started to play great.”
The semifinal began with the Jaguars mercilessly attacking the St. Thomas goal. In the fifth minute, sophomore Marlena Cutura assisted her sister Christina off a corner kick. Christina, a senior, headed the ball into the Falcons’ net for a 1-0 lead. Six minutes later, the dynamic sisters hooked up again, when Marlena passed to Christina for a sliding shot that rolled into the bottom left corner of goal.
Marlena Cutura broke free along the right sideline in the 26th minute and looped an attempt into goal. She scored again in the 69th minute.
Pope John Paul II outshot St. Thomas Aquinas (16-7-2) by a 17-4 margin in the match.
“When we talk on the field, it’s more like we are critiquing each other,” Christina Cutura said. “We know where we want the ball to be for each other.”
And as for the return to the state finals?
“We’ve had an amazing run in the playoffs,” Marlena Cutura said. “We have to keep the energy up. We have one more to go.”
Pope John Paul II (14-4-5) tied the Falcons 2-2 in an earlier district match at St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Jaguars defeated their district mates 2-1 when they met in Slidell. The Jaguars have outscored opponents 19-1 in their four playoff games leading up to this year’s final.