EDWARDSVILLE – Beating a team three times in one season has been proven time and time again to be a tough task.
Lake-Lehman, which defeated Dallas for the first time in three tries earlier in the District 2 Class 2A tournament, was out to accomplish the feat again on Saturday in the district title game against Coughlin.
The Crusaders, however, have been writing their own story, having lost twice in their last three games before the playoffs, then knocked out two-time defending champion Scranton Prep in the semifinals.
Add a third win over the Black Knights on the season to Coughlin's resume after a 3-1 victory on Saturday at Wilkes University's Schmidt Stadium.
You don't want to have to (beat a team three times) too often, Coughlin coach Rob Havard said. And a team coached by Mike (Kostrobala) and the Lehman crew, to beat them three times, it's a true championship. No one can ever say ‘yeah but' for this.
Coughlin picks up its second district title in three years after winning gold in Class 3A in 2010. It's the program's first 2A championship since 2004 and it advances to the first round of the PIAA championships to be played on Tuesday at a site in District 4 against the D4 champion Lewisburg, a 2-1 winner over Selinsgrove on Saturday night in that district's final.
With Lehman being as hot as they are and with the senior leadership they have, this one made me more nervous than the last couple (district championship games), Havard added.
The Black Knights, who were denied their first district title since 1998, weren't expected to get past No. 1 seed Dallas in the tournament quarterfinals. But they took care of business there, then ousted Crestwood to reach the final.
I'm extremely proud of my guys. Nobody outside of our locker room expected us to be standing on this field tonight, Kostrobala said. We peaked at the right time, just came up short.
The Crusaders scored the game's first goal as sophomore Travis Kiel scored from Pat Malone with 9:19 to go in the first half. Malone took the ball into Lehman territory, held off defenders, then passed it to the middle. Kiel slotted the score for a 1-0 advantage.
Austin Harry equaled the score at 1-1 for Lehman when his header, off an assist from Kenny Kocher, found the back of the net with 1:08 left in the half.
That goal seemed to turn things in Lake-Lehman's favor. But Kiel's second score of the game, with 27:30 remaining, put Coughlin ahead 2-1.
Trav, for a sophomore to step up like that, he's monumental to the team, Malone said about his teammate. He gives us our momentum. He gives us our confidence. He talks throughout the whole game. He's not shy. He's a big player for us even though he's a sophomore.
Kiel's second goal came as he broke through the Lehman defense with defenders all around him, then crossed the ball to the opposite side of where keeper Colin Masters was standing.
I thought once we tied it up things would stabilize a little bit, which I thought they did for the most part, Kostrobala said. Until that second goal, I thought it was fairly even. An unlucky goal. The kid took the shot and we didn't play it as well as we could've.
With time winding down, Kostrobala had to bring 10 of his players in Coughlin's territory in an attempt to net the equalizer. Instead, the plan backfired.
When the ball was cleared out of the area, Malone was there to beat the lone defender and scurry about 40 yards uncovered with the ball, then beat keeper Colin Masters to seal the victory.
The gameplan was definitely to use my speed and Justin Okun's ballhandling, Malone said. But we weren't just playing to kick it. We were playing for possession, and to play through and control.
District 2 Class 2A Championship
Coughlin 3, Lake-Lehman 1
First half: 1. COU, Travis Kiel (Pat Malone) 9:19; 2. LL, Austin Harry (Kenny Kocher) 1:08
Second half: 1. COU, Kiel 27:30; 2. COU, Malone 5:15
Shots: LL 9, COU 13; Saves: LL 2 (Colin Masters), COU 2 (Josh Featherman); Corners: LL 3, COU 10.