HIGHLAND | Lake Central coach Lori Smith fully believes her team has all three phases of soccer: physical; mental; and emotional, down pat to make a deep run in the tourney.
The now 14-time sectional champs exuded its mental toughness on Saturday afternoon by fighting out a win over a very tough Highland team in the Class 2A Highland Sectional title game thanks to a 4-2 triumph in a shootout.
L.C. will now play Duneland Athletic Conference foe Valparaiso, which beat Chesterton 4-1, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Highland Regional.
With 19 minutes left in the first half, Lake Central managed to lure Highland senior keeper Sam Kerber out of the box and had a three-on-one advantage, but senior forward Hillary Campbell pushed the ball off the right post.
"Every season has its struggles," Smith said. "We have had the physical, but now we have the mental part down. There are some times that we need to keep our emotions in check and any other time, that shot from Hillary goes in."
Two and a half minutes into the second half, Trojan senior midfielder Meredith Garcia dribbled down the field and beat the Indian defense, but she shot one wide left of the post.
In the closest miss of the highly-contested game for the sectional hosts, senior midfielder Nikki Goodeve shot a free kick towards the top middle of the goal, but Indian keeper Megan Bereda jumped and made a fingertip save and the ball went over the crossbar with 10 minutes left.
Eight minutes later, L.C. had its closest chance after Kara Polus blasted a one-timer off the crossbar, as both teams held serve for a scoreless tie in regulation and overtime.
"Highland is always aggressive," Polus said. "The 12 seniors didn't want this to be their last game and we need to come out strong on Wednesday."
But Polus redeemed herself by netting the third goal of the shootout after Bereda stopped the Trojans' second attempt.
After Highland's Michelle Geissler cut the L.C. shootout lead to 3-2, Lauren Doreski blasted one past Kerber for the sectional-clinching goal.
"It's really disappointing and a terrible way to end a soccer game," Highland coach Gordon Walker said. "It was evenly-matched game and I'd pick the same five to shoot at the end every time."