HIGHLAND | The girl who put Griffith into Saturday’s sectional title match won’t be on the field to influence it.
Griffith senior star Krystal Mendoza deposited a loose ball into the goal with 2:28 to play in the first half, and the Panthers moved a step closer to the first sectional title in program history with a 1-0 win over the host squad in the first semifinal of the Class 2A Highland Sectional on Thursday night.
However, in the second half excessive elbows earned Mendoza a red card -- and with it a requisite mandatory one-game suspension, which she will serve when Griffith (10-5) plays Lake Central (11-6) at 2 p.m. Saturday for the sectional championship. Lake Central defeated Gavit 10-0 in the other semifinal.
“Losing Krystal is a big, big void obviously, but -- lesson learned,” Griffith coach Wally Kudyba said. “It was a physical game.”
Multiple cards were issued, but Mendoza took a yellow in the first half and was ejected early in the second half. After the game she was still asking the main official for an explanation, but it was to no avail.
Kudyba said it was retaliatory and a case of the second offender earning the brunt of the penalty, but he couldn’t condone the action even though his team was aggressive throughout the match.
“Young kids need to learn to deal with different situations,” Kudyba said.
The Indians beat Griffith 3-1 in the regular season. Then again, Highland (7-10) just beat Griffith last Saturday 2-1, only to have the Panthers avenge the defeat with a backup goalkeeper.
With Amy Bubala out of goal with a broken hand, junior Allyson Krajnak stepped in and made three saves for a shutout in just her second start of the season. Highland had just seven shots on goal, compared to 15 for Griffith.
“I felt like I had to take on a lot,” Krajnak said. “I could not let any goals in. I had to be the last line of defense and do all my duties.”
The most stressful moment for Krajnak, who plays goalie in travel ball for the NWI United U17 team was a Highland free kick from just outside the 18-yard box following a handball with 12:38 to go in the game. The ball came to Krajnak, but she lost control after Karlie Gragido jarred it loose and drove it over the line. The goal was waved off because Krajnak was in control of the ball originally.
“It feels wonderful,” Krajnak said. “We’re one step closer to winning the sectional, and that’s what Griffith needs.”
Lake Central has won 14 sectionals, including six in the past seven years. The Indians spent the vast majority of the match on the attack and took advantage of a weary Gavit squad with zero players on its bench.
Lauren Doreski scored twice in the first nine minutes, and Kaileigh Kramer-Stephens had two more before the match was 19 minutes old. Five other players scored for the Indians and Gavit scored an own goal.