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Girls soccer team reaches 3A South final before playoff run ends

La Plata 2, Westlake 0

La Plata 1 1Westlake 0 0Goals: La Plata (Norris, Murphy)Saves: La Plata (DeMent 6); Westlake (Hudson 11)

By DALLAS COGLE

Staff writer

This time, there was no looking past the vastly improved Westlake Wolverines by the La Plata Warriors.

Speedy Westlake took the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference by storm when it opened the fall by winning five of its first eight games, equaling last year’s entire victory total. Among the surprised opponents was host La Plata on Sept. 11.

By Friday’s Class 3A South Region girls soccer semifinals, second-seeded Westlake had third-seeded La Plata’s complete attention in the rematch at North Point High School, as the Wolverines moved their hosting privileges just up the road a little ways in Waldorf due their field being unplayable from Hurricane Sandy hitting earlier in the week.

A focused La Plata team set the tone early with an attacking offense that struck with a goal in the first 15 minutes and never relinquished command, en route to 2-0 avenging triumph.

That win advanced La Plata to Monday’s regional final where it was edged on the road by playoff nemesis Huntingtown in a 3-2 outcome.

Huntingtown, the top seed in the region and the defending state champion, had fallen at La Plata during the regular season in a 2-0 contest, bringing its 26-game win streak to an end.

But Huntingtown (15-2) did to La Plata (8-8-1) what La Plata did to Westlake (7-6-1) in terms of revenge.

“Going into [Friday’s] game, we knew the stakes were a little higher and we wanted to avenge [the regular season 2-1 loss to Westlake],” said senior midfielder Alison Norris, who registered La Plata’s first goal on a free kick from about 25 yards away that found the upper 90 of the goal. “During the regular season, the feeling [when we went into game against Westlake] was it was going to be just another win for us. So going into the playoff game, we knew we couldn’t take them lightly. They’re a good team, and their coach is a really good coach.”

La Plata head coach Kevin Barry echoed of that first matchup versus Westlake this year, “I think we took them a little bit for granted because of the success we had against them in past years. They’re a very good team this year. I didn’t feel when we were playing them the first time that we were firing on cylinders.”

It was quite the contrast Friday as La Plata used its impressive passing game to dominant ball possession, resulting in a flurry of shots on goal, particularly during the first 20 minutes of each half.

“I think [La Plata] did underestimate us in the first game,” Westlake head coach Armand Delacruz said. “Absolutely, I think we surprised a lot of teams this year because the last few years we weren’t that good.”

Freshman Courtney Murphy notched the final goal for La Plata midway through the second half, finishing a loose ball in the net off a crossing pass that got knocked around in the box. Murphy, a promising talent as the Warriors’ leading scorer on junior varsity this season, was brought up for the postseason to provide La Plata with a tall, physical presence the team was lacking.

“We’re not overly fast,” Barry said. “We’re a lot better with passing the ball and moving it upfield in a whole-team effort, from our backs to our midfielders to forwards. When we stick to our game plan, we’re a tough team to beat.

“[Friday] was the first time this season there was no flaw in our offensive transition. It was a good game for us.”

In the regular season loss to Westlake, the La Plata coach noted that his club committed “two big turnovers in the middle of the field” that were quickly converted into scores for the Wolverines.

Delacruz added about La Plata’s ability to control the ball consistently, “They were knocking the ball around and putting pressure on us. I thought [North Point’s artificial turf] field was going to play to our advantage because of our speed. But we were chasing the ball a lot and getting frustrated. We were a little slower, a step behind. Chasing the ball is exhausting.”

The Westlake coach praised Norris for controlling the midfield against his swift-footed team.

“We had to play a possession game,” Norris said. “We set up differently to defend their speed. I think we did an excellent job.”

La Plata goalie Paige DeMent notched the shutout protecting the net with six saves.

dcogle@somdnews.com