By DAVID TOELLE
Special to the Journal
TOPEKA — Some early defensive miscues proved costly as Salina Central lost 4-0 to perennial power St. Thomas Aquinas in a 5-1A state semifinal Friday evening at Hummer Sports Park.
"We dug ourselves a big hole by making some defensive mistakes early on," Central coach Mike Dibbini said. "We just couldn't rebound from them. If we could take away those first 20 minutes, we really battled with them and played well for 60 minutes."
Central will face Hayden in today's third-place match at noon. The Wildcats lost 5-2 to Wichita Kapaun in the other semifinal. Kapaun and Aquinas will meet in the championship at 2.
It was another battle for the young Mustangs against a strong, experienced Saints team that used their experience and strength to strike early.
"We didn't have a single senior on the field today, and it showed early," Dibbini said, "but as the game went on we settled in and played better."
Aquinas' first goal came in the third minute when Central's Mary Ralston tried to clear a ball back to keeper Bailey Counts that was picked off by Aquinas' Hannah Pyle, who went top right corner for the score.
"We played timid in the first 20 minutes and it hurt us," Central junior Courtney Wiggins said. "We dug ourselves a hole we couldn't get out of, but we rebounded and played well the rest of the match. When you are in a situation like that you have to play your butt off the rest of the match, and that's what we went for and that's what we did."
Aquinas' (14-4-1) next two goals came 32 seconds apart in the 17th minute. Molly Khoury played a header shot off a corner set piece by Nicole Alfonsin for the first, and bad luck struck again for the Mustangs on the defensive end for the second when Claire Pavlovich played a rebound off a shot by Pyle that was saved by Counts.
Central had a chance for a goal in the 18th minute when Carolyn Exline played a ball out front and had a chance at an open net when Aquinas keeper Maggie Harrison came out of the goal area, but the Saints defense backed up Harrison keeping the goal free.
"Aquinas was a very good team," Dibbini said. "They are very offensive oriented and aggressive with the ball."
Central (15-4-1) settled into a groove for the rest of the half holding the Saints off the board and with only two chances to score before halftime.
The Mustangs had another great chance in the 31st minute on a direct kick at the top of the 18-yard box by Devon Schmitz, but her bender around the Aquinas defense was corralled by Harrison.
The second half was played mainly in the center of the field, with neither team getting many good scoring opportunities. The Saints had a good look in the 52nd on a ball from the left side by Ashley Washburn and another on a direct kick in the 59th.
The Saints got their final goal in the 65th on a penalty kick by Kathryn Beaver when Central was called for a handball inside the penalty box.
Schmitz and Carolyn Exline had Central's only two shots. Counts went the entire 80 minutes in goal, allowing four scores and tallying five saves.
Beaver and Pyle had three shots each for Aquinas as the Saints had 14 total shots, nine on frame. Harrison played just over 70 minutes in goal for the Saints before giving way to Kelsey Castinado to finish the match.