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Final destination: Lady Terriers headed back to state finals

Vandebilt Catholic's Kimberly Grasso (left), Carly Ellender (middle), Makelle Peña (bottom) and Julia Callejas (right) celebrate a header goal by Peña off a throw-in from Ellender in Friday's Division II semifinal match against Lutcher in Houma. (Photo by Benjamin Oliver Hicks/Staff)

The Kimmy G and Jalapeño Peña Show rocked Buddy Marcello Stadium on Friday night.

Vandebilt Catholic soccer stars Kimberly Grasso and Makelle Peña each recorded a hat trick (three goals each) to lead the Lady Terriers to a sixth-straight trip to the Division II finals with a 7-1 semifinal victory over Lutcher in Houma.

Not only have their teammates dubbed the senior duo with affectionate nicknames, they also look to them as two of the team's undisputed leaders.

"They are the epitome of leadership," Lady Terriers coach Philip Amedee said. "That is the difference. You have two girls who can take control of a soccer game, and they came out determined they were going to take control. They have great talent, great ability, great leadership, and they are very determined.

It really showed in the way they played."

The No. 1 Lady Terriers improved to 26-2-1 overall and will face No. 3 Ben Franklin in the Division II title match at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Tad Gormely Stadium in New Orleans, and No. 5 Lutcher, just in its third season of playing girls soccer, ended its season at 17-7-3 overall.

"I am proud of the season we had. These girls fight and fight and fight. You have to give it Vandebilt, they are a really good team," Lutcher coach Neta Bourgeois said. "We told our girls it's 0-0 the whole way, and I felt they gave it their all and did the best they could."

After cracking some early shots and not connecting, the Lady Terriers went ahead 1-0 in the fourth minute when Peña made a long run and found Grasso in front of goal for the 1-0 lead.

"We have been playing together since we were little," Grasso said of her on-field connection with Peña. "We just know how to work with each other and the runs we each make. It's good to have that connection with someone on the field."

Lutcher was unrattled and answered right back when Abigail Lubrano found Lutcher's top goal scorer Kassidy Zeringue for the equalizer 11 minutes in.

That, however, was the last time Zeringue got free of the Lady Terriers defense in the match.

"We were aware of where she was all night long," Amedee said of Zeringue. "We were determined we were not going to let one player beat us. We kept an eye and a body on her all night and never let her run free on us. That was one of the keys to the game. We talked all week long about how Lutcher is gutsy, and they got here by never giving up."

The Lady Terriers then retook the lead in the 20th minute when Peña gathered a pass in front of goal and sent it in the back of the net for a 2-1 advantage.

"We knew they were going to come in with some intensity. We knew we had to score on them quick. They came back on us with that goal, and then our defense stepped up and was like a brick wall," Peña said. "We had to just keep that intensity up the whole game."

Lady Terriers senior defender Carly Ellender, another of the team leaders, then delivered a throw in that Peña received in midair with her head and sent into the back of the net for a 3-1 lead in the 24th minute, and Vandebilt took a 4-1 lead in the 34th minute when Grasso sent in a shot after Lutcher failed to clear it from goal.

Just after halftime, Vandebilt went ahead 5-1 when Peña got loose on a breakaway and scored in the 43rd minute.

After numerous other chances for the Lady Terriers later in the second half, they finally broke through against Lutcher goalie Chelsea Roussel for two goals in the final 2 minutes.

Grace Champagne snuck a ball in near post with a little flick after a long run and pass from Grasso, who added her third goal of the night just before the final whistle on a shot in front of goal.

Marianne Clark got the victory in goal for the Lady Terriers, who will now focus on taking home a state title after three state runner-up crowns the last three seasons. Vandebilt won its only two girls state soccer titles in 2008 and 2009.

"We just have our keep our mind set this week. We have to approach it just like every other game, but we know it's another level," Peña said. "The stakes are higher. It will test our whole year and how we have prevailed. I believe we can accomplish anything as a team."

Lady Terriers senior defender Carly Ellender said it will be a week of hard work at Vandebilt.

"We have a whole week of training to prepare for this game, and it will be the hardest that we have ever worked," Ellender said. "We are ready."