BLOOMINGTON — Central Catholic High School standout forward Lauren Shanks spent much of the game playing from behind.
From behind the Peoria Christian defense, that is.
Adept at running down some well-placed passes to the rear of the Chargers' backfield, Shanks netted six goals and also assisted on freshman Katie Steinman's score, as the Saints claimed a convincing 7-0 win over Peoria Christian in the championship game of the Class 1A Regional on Friday at Bill Hundman Memorial Field.
"Everybody's pretty excited," said Shanks of her school's fourth regional title. "We have some momentum going into the next game, so that's good."
Central Catholic advances to face Pleasant Plains in a 6 p.m. sectional semifinal on Tuesday at Quincy Notre Dame. Pleasant Plains (14-3-3) was also a 7-0 winner over Athens in its regional final.
Shanks scored her first goal just 1:18 into Friday's contest and wasn't done putting points on the board until she booted home a 40-yarder with 14 seconds left.
"She's really phenomenal," said Central coach Reza Ghasemi, extolling praises upon Shanks, far and away the area's leading scorer with 60 goals. "She's blessed with speed, with power, with the vision of the field."
Multiple goal games for Shanks have become the rule rather than the exception.
"Every day she surprises me from the day before," Ghasemi said. "She just keeps playing better and better each game."
Shanks netted four first-half goals to give the Saints a comfortable lead at the break.
Her first, in the game's opening two minutes, came when she worked her way through three Peoria Christian defenders and prevailed in a one-on-one with goalkeeper Keseanna Watson.
She then had a one-on-one with Watson rejected before corralling the rebound with her back to the goal, spinning around and left-footing a shot into the net with 31:59 left in the half.
With 22:12 left in the first period, Shanks ran down a beautifully placed pass from Caroline O'Connor and converted for a 3-0 Saints lead.
She received another assist from O'Connor before dribbling toward the middle of the field deep in the Peoria Christian zone and left-footing another score to give Central its halftime margin.
"Part of it is, we were doing a great job feeding the ball where we needed to," Ghasemi said. "(O'Connor) is doing a great job in through-way passes for Lauren and Lauren is skilled at dribbling and can go through the defense and finish it."
The Central defense, for its part, did a splendid job in limiting Peoria Christian to only one shot on goal, a rocket by Molly Bennington that hit the near post.
"Sarah Brady did a great job on defense," said Ghasemi. "Ana Isaac and Taryn Shanahan, those kids really pretty much dominated on the back end."
Ghasemi added that that's where much of the Saints' offense begins.
"We created the offense on the backside and then in the middle, O'Connor and Keira Hadley were rocking it," he said.
Shanks scored her fifth goal midway through the second half when Central forward Mia Sivore saw her alone in front of the net and connected with her for a 5-0 Saints' lead.
Steinman was led with a pass from Shanks and converted for a 6-0 Central advantage with 3:33 to play before Shanks netted her unexpected long-range tally in the closing seconds.
Central improved to 13-8 heading into next week's sectional.
"If we play our game, we are fine," Ghasemi said. "We have definitely peaked where we need to be. From day one, when we started two-and-a-half months ago to where we are today, is just night and day. They practice hard and they play hard and they're showing how smoothly they play together now."