Sterlington 1, Houma Christian 0
Allison Guerriero's early goal stood up as Sterlington blanked Houma Christian 1-0 Monday in Round 2 of the Division IV state soccer playoffs.
As the No. 6 seed, the Lady Panthers (16-5-1) were awarded an opening-round bye before collecting the first postseason victory in program history at the expense of the visiting Lady Warriors (11-4-6).
"This was a very good win for us," Sterlington coach Lori Bruscato said. "These girls are fighters. They play hard, and they are coming together as a team.
"We were definitely mentally prepared for this game, which is something I was concerned about. Sometimes you can psyche yourself out. We had never won a playoff game and we had home field advantage, but they handled everything well."
Make that home turf advantage.
"This was our first time playing on turf this season," Houma Christian coach Marty Bouquet said. "When you're moving the ball on a turf field, it's a lot faster, so the touch is a little different."
Sterlington progresses to the quarterfinals where it will meet the winner of Tuesday's matchup between No. 19 Christ Episcopal and No. 3 Episcopal of Acadiana.
In Monday's fixture, the Lady Panthers went on the attack right away. Noor Sheikh-Khalil weaved through the Lady Warriors' defense for a 25-yard run in the opening minute before Houma Christian keeper Jillian Daigle made the routine stop.
Houma Christian's Koryn Barrett gave Sterlington an early scare, but the freshman's goal was negated due to an off sides violation.
Sterlington countered emphatically. On the restart, Chandler Manning drove the free kick deep into Houma Christian territory. Winning possession on the left side, Kendall Merrell's cross set up Guerriero in front of the net.
"It was kind of a blur," Guerriero said of her game-winning goal.
While Guerriero doesn't remember a lot about the goal, she understands the significance of the Lady Panthers' first playoff win. Her sister, Anna Beth Guerriero, was a freshman on the school's inaugural team five years ago.
"Knowing that Anna Beth played here for four years probably makes it more meaningful to me," Allison Guerriero said. "She was never able to go this far. It's amazing to be going to the quarterfinals, especially as a freshman. I'm just trying to make her proud."
With only four upperclassmen on the roster, the Lady Warriors appeared somewhat jittery in the early going.
"Any time you travel five hours to play a team you have never played before, you are going to be a little nervous," Bouquet said.
Sterlington goalkeeper Ana Hodnett wasn't seriously challenged until she scooped up Taylor Webb's low shot in the 19th minute.
With time winding down in the second half, Maddie Lawhon's shot from 17 yards out sailed wide of the net and another attempt resulted in a routine save by Daigle.
Houma Christian mounted its best scoring threat a short while later as defender Lauren Wright blocked a goal-bound shot and Hodnett stopped a second chance.
Sterlington continued to apply the pressure after the interval, but was unable to double its lead. Hannah Jerkins' drive from inside the box ricocheted off of a defender, Emma Grace Brister lofted a high volley off the crossbar and Sheikh-Khalil pulled a shot wide left.
"I kind of had a flashback to the Ouachita game where we gave one up late," Bruscato said, referring to a 1-0 Jan. 20 loss in the finals of the Ouachita Tournament. "I really thought we would score another one in the second half."
Sterlington's rear wall of Maddie Merrell, Shelby Moore, Wright, Gray Grunsky and Guerriero, who moved to defense in the second half, made sure one goal was enough. Houma Christian could sustain nothing offensively over the final 40 minutes.
"Coach Bruscato just told me to go back there and be fast," Guerriero said. "We didn't really have a gameplan. She just told us to play with all we have and to leave it all on the field."
"We didn't have much of a scouting report on Houma Christian," Bruscato added. "I just wanted us to focus on playing our game and not worry so much about what they were going to do."
Bouquet's scouting report underestimated the Lady Panthers.
"Sterlington was better than I expected," Bouquet admitted. "They are aggressive, physical and fast to the ball. I wish them well the rest of the way."
Houma Christian's only shot of the second half came in stoppage time when Alex McKeon's offering was partially deflected by Wright, resulting in an easy save for Hodnett.
Regaining possession in Sterlington territory, the Lady Warriors were unable to get off another shot.
After Manning's throw-in, Lawhon and Moore prevented the Lady Warriors from crossing midfield in the waning seconds.
"I told our girls if we go out and play together and play our game, there is a good chance that we could win, and that's what they did," Bruscato said.
Notes: Raylee Butler, Chandler Manning and Noor Sheikh-Khalil were recognized during a halftime Senior Night ceremony. ... Fireworks were set off before and after the game. ... Sterlington out-shot the Lady Warriors 15-9, including 8-1 in the second half. ... Sterlington's boys also won a 1-0 second-round decision Monday night, defeating Dunham in Baton Rouge. The 10th-seeded Panthers will play the No. 15 Covenant Christian-No. 2 Episcopal winner in the quarterfinal round.
9 .... Shots .................. 15
3 .... Shots on Target ... 6
1 .... Corner kicks ....... 2
1 .... Off sides ............. 0
3 ..... Fouls .................. 3
0 ..... Yellow cards ..... 0