Tigers can't slow Whitehall
nancy scholz/times news Northwestern's Grace Baker (4) goes high to head the ball away from Whitehall's Kayla Cunningham (23).
WHITEHALL - Northwestern coach Kelly Bleam called them "golden opportunities."
Bleam was referring to several first half scoring chances that her Tigers had in the District 11 semifinals against Whitehall on Tuesday night.
Unfortunately for Northwestern, none of those golden opportunities were turned into goals.
That proved to be a recipe for disaster.
While the Tigers struggled to find the back of the net, Whitehall grabbed a first half lead and methodically controlled play after intermission to post a 3-0 victory.
"I thought we had some golden opportunities to grab a lead in the first half," said Bleam. "If we punch one in early it could've changed the entire complexion of the game."
Sara Jones had the first and probably best opportunity to put Northwestern on the board, but her header off a Sabrina Mertz corner bounced off the post just five minutes into the game.
Trista Cunningham, Anna Fricchione and Sarah Segan also were denied from inside the 18-yard line in the opening half as Whitehall goalie Amanda Slotter made several big saves. The Tigers' also had a couple of loose balls in front of the net off corners that they couldn't get a foot on, and had a long free kick by Rachel Kester that threatened to go in but was stopped by Slotter as well.
"When you are playing a team as good as Whitehall, you have to take advantage of the chances you get because you aren't going to keep getting them," said Bleam.
That was the case for Northwestern as it produced around a half dozen scoring chances in the first half, but struggled to mount any serious offensive threat after intermission.
While both teams had six shots in the opening half, Whitehall held a 10-2 edge in shots in the second half.
"Whitehall is an outstanding soccer team," said Bleam. "Their team speed is unmatchable. That is one of the most dynamic high school soccer teams I've seen in my years coaching."
Whitehall (17-4) is not only good, it is hot. The victory was their third straight postseason shutout.
"Our defense and goaltending have been fantastic since the start of districts," said Whitehall coach George Romano. "We are playing very confident all over the field.
"We also have a lot of speed and talent at the forward position. We have a number of girls who have the ability to score goals. With the offense and defense both executing like they have, we are now playing our best soccer of the season."
Sisters Kayla and Kourtney Cunningham have been a huge part of Whitehall's success all season and Tuesday was no exception. Kayla, a junior, got another goal. It was her team-leading 41st of the season. Meanwhile, freshman Kourtney scored her 22nd goal and also added a pair of assists. Kara Parvel scored the first Whitehall goal, breaking a scoreless tie with 15:34 left in the first half.
Northwestern (20-2) will now meet Pleasant Valley on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at Whitehall in the District 11 consolation game. The winner advances to the state tournament.
"It's definitely a big game," said Bleam. "We are playing for a chance to extend our season. There is a lot at stake.
"Pleasant Valley is a very good team and we are a little banged up right now. So we definitely have our work cut out for us."