LAKEWOOD -- Some day, maybe in the very near future, the Southridge girls soccer team will be where Seattle Prep is, one victory away from a state soccer title.
The Panthers had been in that position several times -- four to be exact -- since 1991 and are still seeking their first championship banner. They'll get another chance today after beating the Suns 2-0 on Friday in the 3A state semifinals at Harry E. Lang Stadium.
Southridge (16-5) will have to wait another day for its title shot. Instead, the Suns will face Prairie (14-5-1) for third-fourth place at 10 a.m. today in a match featuring two teams making their first Final Four appearance.
"We'll see them here again," said Seattle Prep coach Andy Hendricks.
One thing about state title runs is they are bound to include some breaks along the way that allow teams to squeeze out of tough jams. But despite an 11-6 shot advantage, Southridge got nary a one against Seattle Prep, which will face Bonney Lake at 2 p.m. for the 3A championship.
"We were just really unlucky today," said Heather Johnson, who totaled 31 goals and 17 assists for the Suns this year but was contained effectively by Panthers defender Danielle Audino, who man-marked her tightly throughout the match.
"(Heather) always gets frustrated when she doesn't score. Today was a day where she was going to have to create goals," said Suns coach Riley Dodson.
The teams played evenly through much of the first half. Southridge held the edge in possession for much of the first 30 minutes before the momentum started to swing the other way. Finally, in the 38th minute, Prep midfielder Emma Healey found some space on the right hash just inside the top of the Suns' 18-yard box and lifted a soft liner over Southridge goalkeeper Ingrid Stein and into the far corner for a 1-0 lead.
"We've experienced being down before. That was kind of a wake-up call," said Suns defender Meghan Sorensen.
Southridge headed into the locker room with their minds still in the game, however. After all, the Suns had overcome a two-goal deficit against Mt. Spokane just two weeks before.
"We weren't too concerned. I thought we were doing well with all that wind," Dodson said. "It was really their set pieces that scared us the most. It was a credit to the girls that we didn't give up any goals on set pieces."
But when the Suns moved a third attacker up top to provide more offense, that's when Seattle Prep took advantage on the counter-attack.
In the 56th minute, Panthers' forward Mary Ann Santucci sent a pass upfield to Gio Plater, who was making a run up the right hash. Plater got the ball in stride, took a couple of touches and drove it past Stein, who was coming out to cut off the angle.
That gave Prep a 2-0 lead with 24 minutes remaining, but it wasn't as comfortable as you might think for Hendricks.
"Two-nothing is a dangerous lead in soccer. Their tactics are going to change, and we're going to have to adjust," he said. "They play a pretty direct style."
Southridge got its best chance to score 10 minutes later when Johnson controlled the ball inside the Seattle Prep box and attacked the net. She dropped the ball back to Michelle Foster, who was open for a shot from eight yards away with Panthers' keeper Abby Rockwell out of position. But Foster's shot was blocked by a Prep defender who stepped in at the last second, preventing what looked like a sure goal that would have cut the lead to 2-1.
But that was the Suns' day in a nutshell. A frustrating day, but promising, too, considering it was their first appearance on the Final Four stage.
"It was kind of both," Sorensen said. "We're still going to take things one game at a time. This is the furthest we've ever gone, but we're not going to settle for fourth."
Scoring -- 1, SP, Emma Healey (Sarah Coluccio), 38:00; 2, SP, Gio Plater (Mary Ann Santucci), 56:00. Shots -- SP 6, Sou 11. Saves -- SP, Abby Rockwell 4. Sou, Ingrid Stein 2.