Second half goals by Isabella Lopez and Ella Marsh powered Ben Franklin to a 2-0 Division II semifinal victory over Neville on a frosty Friday evening at Bill Ruple Stadium.
Ben Franklin (19-4-5), the No. 6 seed, advances to play No. 1 St. Thomas More (19-4-5) in Thursday’s state championship game at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. Coach Jose Ferrand’s Falcons are chasing their first state title since winning four straight from 2013-16.
Friday’s semifinal outing was scoreless at halftime although the visiting Falcons out-shot the Lady Tigers 15-4.
Ben Franklin sprayed 10 shots in the direction of Neville sophomore keeper Julie Alligood before the Lady Tigers could mount their first scoring opportunity.
“Julie kept us in it, but it’s never a good sign when your goalkeeper has that many saves,” said Neville coach Walt Smith of Alligood’s 13-save effort. “Obviously, we played a real good team in Ben Franklin.”
Neville came alive offensively during a brief stretch toward the latter stages of the first half.
Lauren Graham’s cross from the right side rolled dangerously across the goal area, but no one was there to tap it in.
Seconds later, Lauren Graham flicked a line drive on net from 22 yards out.
Neville’s best opportunity came in the 30th minute. Caroline Hinkle’s shot, on a corner kick from Caroline Graham, appeared to be going in, but was cleared by defender Gwyneth Clarke.
when Ben Franklin keeper Yana Ficklow made a miraculous save on a corner kick.
Ben Franklin threatened again in the 33rd minute when Camila Sequeira overshot the net from 25 yards away on a penalty kick.
Caroline Graham nearly put Neville in front early in the second half with a 15-yard shot from the left angle, but Ficklow made a sprawling save.
Ben Franklin soon began to reassert itself, peppering three shots at the Neville net before finally solving Alligood in the 53rd minute. Taking the throw-in from Sequeira, Marsh passed to Lopez on the left side. Following some impressive footwork, Lopez pushed the ball past the near post to give the Falcons a 1-0 advantage.
With Ben Franklin continuing to dominate possession, Neville survived a pair of close calls as Alligood stopped two shots by Marsh. Defender Ava Dickson blocked another shot from inside the box to keep the Lady Tigers within 1-0.
Ben Franklin would tack on a second goal in the 66th minute after Nina Cameron was fouled at the seven-yardline. Marsh drove home the free kick with a blast to the right side to all but seal the result.
With Lily Markus, Cameron, Marsh and Lopez on the back line, the Falcons finished the shutout.
Ben Franklin placed 15 shots on target as compared to Neville’s six, and held a decisive 65 percent-35 percent edge in possession time.
No. 2 Neville (19-5-2), which saw its 18-game unbeaten streak come to an end, was seeking its first trip to the finals since falling to St. Scholastica in the 2007 championship match. A large crowd and the Neville band braved the cold weather for what turned out to be the final game in the careers of Lady Tigers’ seniors Ava Dickson, Caroline Graham, Taylor Smiley, Cameron Lavespere, Helen Johnson, Anna Parker and Ava Wood.
“We lose seven seniors who played varsity for most of their high school time. They were the core group that brought us to the semifinals the last two seasons,” Smith said. “Being the only north Louisiana team left in the semifinals the last two years — that’s something to be proud of. They have set high standards. They have raised the level of expectations for the girls to keep winning going forward. Losing a big group like this, it’s going to be a challenge, but we’ll see if we can make another run at in next year.”
BFHS …………….….. NHS
25 … Shots ……………. 9
15 … Shots on Target … 6
3 ….. Corner kicks ……. 4
6 ….. Saves ……………. 13
0 ….. Offsides ………….. 0
0 ….. Yellow cards …….. 1
0 ….. Red cards ……….. 0