By DOUG CHAPIN
HOWLAND -- After going 110 minutes of soccer without seeing much of the ball, Howland High goal keeper Meagan McLaughlin made sure she got her hands on the sphere during the penalty kicks phase of Monday's Division I girls soccer district championship game against Poland.
McLaughlin, who set a school record for shutouts in a season this year, stopped three Poland penalty kicks as the Tigers outscored the Bulldogs, 3-1, following a scoreless tie through regulation and two overtimes.
Howland (15-2-3) advanced to a regional semifinal Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Ravenna Stadium against Massillon Jackson (17-2).
"Meagan is the heart and soul of this team. I can't say enough about her," Howland coach Pat Hovance said. "She trains all year around and I think she has a chance to play at the next level. We were very confident going into the penalty kicks with Meagan in goal."
McLaughlin, just a junior, missed the Tigers' last two tournament games with an illness. She only had to make two saves before the penalty kicks as Howland outshot the Bulldogs, 27-3.
Poland's Pam Shure recorded 14 saves and she and defenders Stephanie Armstrong, Rachel Cooper and Jill Roemer, among others, stopped attack after attack from Howland.
"They held tough throughout and Pam had just an excellent game," Poland (15-3-2) coach Jimmy Sutman said. "She was reading the plays well and her punts were nice and long. She did a great job keeping us in position to win."
In the penalty kick phase, McLaughlin began by stopping Maureen Malone. Howland's Brittany Martorana, who came close to scoring several times during the game, put one in low and to her right and off the hand of Shure.
The second kicks
Armstrong knotted the score for Poland, putting her shot on the far right side of the net. Howland's Stephanie Keul also hit the bottom right corner and Howland led 2-1.
Kelly Storkel was stopped by McLaughlin, then Meagan Long put Howland within one goal of the district title. It was fitting that McLaughlin made the last play, stopping Sam Stanich on a hard shot to the left side.
"We've just about been through it all now," Hovance said. "We win in overtime last game, then penalty kicks tonight. I don't know what else is left."
Hovance said he didn't make any changes in strategy or personnel to try to get the deciding goal before penalty kicks.
"Last game against Boardman we moved some people up and we got a goal, but we didn't have Meagan [McLaughlin] in that game. We were doing everything tonight but put the ball in the net. We were winning the 50-50 balls, moving the ball around and playing great possession soccer."
Sutman agreed the Tigers played exceptionally well.
"You have to give Howland credit, their defense is very difficult to score against and they just stifled us tonight," he said. "We were trying to attack but they had such good reactions and they trap the ball very well. They just don't make any mistakes on the back line."
Defenders and attackers
Central defenders Deja Amato and Alexa Williams were solid in front of McLaughlin. Williams had filled in at keeper when McLaughlin was ill.
Martorana and Melissa Kohn were most prominent in the Howland attack, peppering Shure with shots. Kohn's four corner kicks all turned out to be dangerous scoring opportunities, and Amato just missed high with a free kick from about 23 yards out with 15:00 left in regulation.
Howland is making its first trip to the regional since 2000. The Tigers lost the last two years in the district final to Green. Ironically, Poland took care of Green for Howland this year, winning 4-0 in the district semifinals.
Poland won district titles in 2002 (Division I), 2003 and 2004 (both Division II), beating Howland in the district final in 2002.