BY KEN FOX
TOPEKA -- There were soccer fans out there expecting Northridge to cruise to the regional title against an unbeaten, but rarely tested, Lakewood Park Christian team.
Saturday's title game, though, was anything but a walk in the park for the Raiders.
A goal barely four minutes into the game by senior Joshua Miller stood up for Northridge, as coach Tom Woodworth's team advanced to the semistate with a 1-0 victory over Lakewood Park.
The 17th-ranked Raiders (17-4-1) will play No. 14 Fort Wayne Carroll (17-2-1) at 10 a.m. Saturday in the opening game of the Warsaw Semistate.
"I'm just so proud of our kids, they beat a very good soccer team today," Woodworth said. "Lakewood Park made us work hard and really challenged us today."
The game's lone goal came early, as Miller took a centering pass from classmate Andy Morrison and shot the ball low at 6-foot-3 goaltender Brock Taulbee. Taulbee got down on the ground, but not quick enough, as the ball slid past him and into the net.
"Our kids set a goal early in the year to try and score first in every game we played," Woodworth said. "We didn't quite do that, but we did it a lot and that really puts a lot of pressure on your opponent."
With Austin Altimus, the state's leading scorer, running the field for Lakewood Park, one goal was hardly a clincher for Northridge.
However, the defense in front of goaltender Derrick Giddens was just two strong for Altimus and the Panthers.
Once Lakewood Park started to push the offensive issue midway through the second half, Northridge responded by having his fastest player, junior Brandon Gannon, shadow Altimus.
"Altimus is not only fast, but he's really quick to the ball," Woodworth explained. "We already were making sure we knew where he was on the field, but as the time ticked down, we wanted to have Gannon running with him."
While Gannon was effective in keeping Altimus at bay, the Raiders' defense was already providing a Fort Knox-like security system around goalie Derrick Giddens.
The high scoring Panthers not only failed to score, but they didn't even get a shot on goal in the game, even though Lakewood Park did put the pressure on offensively in the final 20 minutes.
"I felt very good about the way we were playing defensively all afternoon," Woodworth said. "The kids really challenged their passes and did a good job of controlling the ball."
After seeing an unbeaten season end at the hands of Northridge for the second straight season, Panther coach Steve Taulbee was disappointed but proud of his team's effort.
"We kept the pressure on them and really battled a great team very hard," Taulbee said. "The key was giving up that early goal. You just can't let that happen four minutes into the sectional title game."
NORTHRIDGE 1, LAKEWOOD PARK 0
N â” Josh Miller (Andy Morrison assist) 4th minute.
Shots on goal: Northridge 6, Lakewood Park 0. Goalie saves: Northridge â” Derrick Giddens 0; Lakewood Park â” Brock Taulbee 4. Corner kicks: Northridge 6, Lakewood Park 1.
Records: Northridge 17-4-1, Lakewood Park 18-1-1.
Next: Northridge vs. Carroll in semifinals of Warsaw Semistate Saturday.