Neal's hat trick lifts Lakes
The soccer ball kept finding Alex Neal's feet, and after all the posed pictures were snapped by moms and dads, the regional trophy found the hands of Lakes' all-state midfielder.
"No one wanted it," Neal said of the Class 2A hardware, which she held tightly after her 3 goals and 1 assist led the Eagles to a 7-1 win over Richmond-Burton in the championship match of their own regional on a sunny Saturday in Lake Villa.
"Someone was holding it up and I just said I'd take it."
Neal was opportunistic throughout the game, too, as she and fellow senior Michelle Kosmen proved too much for the Rockets.
Neal's hat trick hiked her goal total to 34, while Kosmen's pair of tallies gave her 23. Kosmen added 2 assists.
Lakes (20-6), which was the top seed in its own regional, earned a berth in its own sectional and will play Regina at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Eagles had beaten Richmond-Burton 6-0 earlier in the season.
The Eagles were relentless offensively this time, as well, as they jumped out to a 5-1 lead by halftime.
"We got a lot of firepower this year with Michelle and Alex and the rest of the team," coach Kevin Kullby said. "We had played (Richmond-Burton) earlier so we just had to play with our confidence, move the ball and create opportunities."
As it did in its regional-semifinal win over Antioch, Lakes struck in spurts. Kosmen flicked in a header in the 12th minute after R-B's keeper couldn't squeeze a ball played into the box by Brittany Mooney.
In the next minute, Kosmen sent Neal in on a breakaway. The George Washington University recruit made one deke on the keeper and slid a shot to the far post for her first tally.
When Kosmen one-timed a shot into the net after a diagonal pass inside the box from Neal, the Eagles had their third goal in less than four minutes.
"Once we get rolling, it's hard to stop us," Neal said. "Once we get one goal, it seems like we get a rhythm going."
Richmond-Burton cut its deficit to 3-1 when sophomore Hannah Condit beat Eagles keeper Sarah Fitzpatrick with a free kick from just outside the box with 3:58 left in the half.
But it took Lakes just 13 seconds to answer, as Neal received a pass from Kosmen, dribbled into the box and drilled in her second of the morning.
Ashley Neubeck fired in a goal from outside the top of the box, with Mooney earning her second assist, to make it 5-1 seconds before halftime.
Alyssa Baker assisted on Neal's hat-trick goal in the 61st minute, and Ann Safron concluded the scoring by finishing a Hanna Jewell pass.
Lakes won a regional title on its home field, as well, last year and then captured the first sectional championship by any team in the school's young history.
"I think it just shows our credibility within the state as a good team," Neal said of the back-to-back regional titles.
If Lakes gets past Regina, it would likely face St. Viator in Friday's 7 p.m. sectional final. St. Viator edged Lakes 3-2 last month.
"That's the game we've been pointing to since we played them the last time," Kullby said.
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