VALPARAISO | Ashely Thomas has friends and club soccer teammates around the area, some of whom she felt didn't take Valparaiso seriously.
Thomas feels like the host Vikings' 2-0 win over Lake Central in the semifinals of the Class 2A Valparaiso Regional on Wednesday earned them some respect.
"We struggled throughout the season and those teams kind of looked down on us," Thomas said. "We needed to prove ourselves and prove we have what it takes."
Valpo will take on defending regional champ Crown Point in the final Saturday. The Bulldogs topped Hammond 9-0 earlier in the night.
"I think it is right for that to be the regional championship game," Vikings coach Rob Cespedes said. "It feels right."
Thomas's goal in the 43rd minute broke a scoreless tie. Thomas found a deflection in the box and put a line drive into the nylon on the left side.
Thomas missed a huge opportunity for the Vikings (10-6-2) in the 34th minute. Lake Central defender Hannah Triveline fell, leaving Thomas with a direct line to the goal. But Indians keeper Lindsay Kusbel made a diving stop and Ingrid Wagner's rebound sailed over the goal.
"After I kind of screwed up in the first half a couple times, I needed to redeem myself," Thomas said. "I wanted to recover from that so I was taking a shot to help out the team."
Grace Withrow added another score about 10 minutes later.
L.C. (8-8-1) played well defensively and goalie Lindsay Kusbel finished with 13 saves, but it wasn't enough.
Crown Point (13-5-1) got things going early in their semifinal. Jenna Arnold scored her first goal at 2:22 and her second at 24:45. Kara Ford had one in between.
Delaney Benich and Jenna McCarroll scored before the break and it was 5-0 at halftime.
Arnold earned a hat trick with a goal in the second half. Benich tallied another, while Jenna McCarroll and Maridee Krampen each scored before the final horn.
"It was kind of lackluster in the first half," Bulldogs coach Chris Mikrut said. "I told the girls that the goals weren't as important as the play. We've got to get back to a pattern."
Hammond (6-7) lost keeper Miriam Martinez late in the first half to an arm injury. Martinez had 11 saves at that point and was keeping the Wildcats alive. It was 3-0 at that point.
Martinez returned in the 47th minute.
"We're really excited to be here. Five of my girls have been playing soccer and the other seven, this is their first time playing soccer," coach Mayra Rodriguez-Alvarez said. "To make it this far is a big accomplishment, in general. I'm very proud of them."
It was the first regional game in school history for Hammond.