MERRILLVILLE | “Nerves of steel” would be an appropriate description for Valparaiso goalkeeper Ethan Lehnen’s demeanor on the soccer field.
He proved that Thursday night, stopping three out of five Munster shots in a match-deciding penalty kick session, as the Vikings defeated the Mustangs 3-2 on penalty kicks in the first match of the Class 2A Merrillville Regional.
“That’s the easiest part for me, honestly,” Lehnen said. “The PK’s, we do it every day in practice. We learn tricks how to get it done.
That’s the least nervous I was all night.”
In the penalty kick session, Valparaiso senior captain Tommy Billings missed his shot over the crossbar. However, Lehnen stuffed Munster’s Alex Sikora and Danny Riggs after Billings’ misfire to ensure the win.
“It’s awesome,” Lehnen said. “Tommy had a rough time. He’s had a rough year all year, so it was nice to get it back for him.”
Vikings coach Danny Jeftich praised Lehnen for his effort between the pipes.
“Senior leadership showed up with Ethan in the goal,” Jeftich said. “Making those saves was unbelievable. He doesn’t look like a big guy, but he’s very quick and reads the game very well.”
Valparaiso’s John Christodoulakis ended a 43-minute scoring stalemate, finding the net for his second goal with 5:11 remaining in the match.
Refusing to give up, however, Munster’s Nick Cossyleon connected on a feed from Alex Sikora, tying the match 2-2 with less than a minute remaining in regulation to force overtime.
Valparaiso (17-2) wasted no time drawing first blood, as Christodoulakis found the net just seven minutes into the game.
Munster would fire back a minute later when Cossyleon connected on a point blank tap that rolled just inches past the goal line, tying the game up 1-1 before nine minutes passed.
In the second semifinal, Lake Central rallied from an early 2-0 deficit against defending state champion Crown Point, tied things at 3-3 and won 5-4 in overtime.
Josh Crague scored two of Lake Central’s three goals in the second half before connecting for the hat trick in overtime. Ulises Hernandez scored two goals for L.C., including the fifth goal late in overtime to allow the Indians to hang on.
“Last year, we lost to these guys,” Crague said. “I had to avenge the loss last year to all the seniors. I had to play like it was my last game if we won or lost, and that helped me.”