PORTAGE | Ashley Thomas had a plan of taking as many shots as possible Saturday afternoon. She stuck to the script, even when she wasn’t facing the goal.
The Valparaiso junior flipped a shot over her shoulder that found the back of the net and began a streak of five unanswered goals for the Vikings in a 5-1 Class 2A Portage Sectional championship victory over Chesterton.
Valparaiso hosts the regional, and it meets Lake Central in Wednesday's semifinals.
Thomas finished with a hat trick and a wide smile as she tried to explain her improbable goal.
“This game was going to mean it all,” Thomas said. “I knew I’d have to take as many shots as I could. I didn’t think that was going to go in, but I knew I had to try and make something happen.”
Thomas’ first goal came just minutes before halftime and tied the match at 1-1 after Chesterton’s Katie Green scored in the 17th minute on an untouched corner kick. With the Vikings having the wind at their backs in the second half, tying the match before the break was icing on the cake.
“It’s very key to go into the half with the momentum,” Thomas said. “We knew the wind would help, but you can’t go into half (with momentum) when you’re losing.”
The Vikings took advantage of the wind in the second half as Valparaiso got two quick goals in the opening 10 minutes, which changed the match. Lauren Reineke headed in a shot off a corner kick from Lexi Ferngren in the 47th minute and then Ferngren added the insurance goal three minutes later.
“I don’t get many chances to score, but it’s Chesterton and it’s for the sectional title,” Ferngren said. “I’m more of someone who gives out the assists, but I saw a chance and I took it.”
Thomas added two more goals late in the half and the Valparaiso defense kept the Trojans at bay, clinching their fourth consecutive sectional title and 15th in the last 17 years.
“I knew that we could get some opportunities and that we had the girls that could generate those opportunities,” Valparaiso coach Rob Cespedes said. “Chesterton has a great team and they beat us earlier this year. That was something to respect. I knew we could win and now we’ve got to continue to progress.”
The result is a bitter pill for the Trojans (13-2-2) to swallow as it was just their second loss of the season and first since the second game of the year. Chesterton graduates eight seniors, including star forward Bridget Brendza.
“We played a certain way all year and then we didn’t bring that here today,” Chesterton coach Dave Galloway said. “That makes it very frustrating to have a game plan and then not execute. We had a great season, a great run, but the best team doesn’t always win.”