SOUTH BEND — Facing off against undefeated and defending Class 2A state champion Penn, coach Valerie Pflum knew Munster was going to have to be just about flawless to come away with a win.
Through the first 40 minutes, the Mustangs went toe-to-toe with the Kingsmen as Monday's Class 3A South Bend Adams Regional championship match was all squared at 1-1. The second half proved to be all Penn though as the Kingsmen turned the screws on their way to a 3-1 win at Tallman-Beyrer Field.
"It was going to take a nearly perfect game to pull this one off," Pflum said. "The girls should hold their head high because no one expected us to even be where we are right now, and we got here because they worked so hard all season. No one can take that away from them.
"We always seem to have enough to make it through the first half, and then we'll crumble occasionally in the second half. That third Penn goal was kind of the icing on the cake for us, we had a lot of tired legs out there."
Penn (21-0-1) took an early lead at the 6:48 mark with a back-heel goal from Maya Lacognato off an assist from Molly McLaughlin with Kristina Lynch delivering the initial corner kick in. Given Penn's defensive prowess, 1-0 seemed to be an insurmountable lead as the Kingsmen had given up just two goals all year heading into Monday's match.
The Mustangs attack had something different to say about it. The 'Stangs offense was prevalent in the first half and continued to push forward with their first chance coming on a shot by Olivia Foley in the 13th minute. Three minutes later, Jaycee Helmer's corner kick found Juli Nelson, whose shot across the net was tapped in by Adeline Andello for her 17th goal of the year.
"We came to play in that first half," Pflum said. "It's nice at this point to know that we scored one of the three goals Penn has given up to this point in the season, but it obviously wasn't enough. We were playing directly at them and found holes on the back line and we're slotting them through. We did a good job of that (Monday).
"That goal fired us up and all you can ask for is to start the second half with a clean slate and everyone even."
The next 40 saw a Penn offense that was simply relentless as Munster crossed the midfield line only a handful of occasions. The Mustangs did not record a shot on goal in the second half.
"Penn changed a lot of stuff offensively and that forced us to hang back more, which took some of our offensive push that we were getting," Pflum said.
Lynch, a Florida State recruit, came into the match with 43 goals but was allowed just one chance in the first half coming in the 29th minute as the shot sailed high and wide. She'd eventually find the net in the 50th minute as she dribbled herself open off a deep pass from Lauren Cernak and blasted a shot by Munster keeper Grace Helmer.
McLaughlin's goal sealed the deal in the 79th as Notre Dame recruit Brooke VanDyck's chip into the box on a free kick was put away.
"(Penn coach Jeff Hart) has so many phenomenal players and we just got tired out," Pflum said. "We're good, but some of those players he has over there are just phenomenal."
Munster (14-4-2) got 12 saves from Helmer, one of four graduating seniors along with Kendal Ziel, Foley and Abigail Nita.
"Three of those four have been on varsity since their freshman year and it'll be tough to replace them, they've been cornerstones," Pflum said. "We had freshmen on the back line this year, Andello, and other juniors that worked hard all season that return. Hopefully next year those girls are ready to step into big shoes and fill the gaps we're going to have."