Lance Lysowski | Observer Reporter
It took 110 minutes of soccer and five rounds of penalty kicks, but Peters Township’s run in WPIAL Class AAA girls soccer playoffs has come to an end.
After reaching the WPIAL finals for six consecutive years, it was the Indians’ biggest rival that spoiled their championship hopes.
Senior defender Abby Gillespie’s goal during penalty kicks clinched a 2-1 victory for Canon-McMillan over Peters Township in the Class AAA quarterfinals.
In the penalty kicks, the teams traded goals through three rounds before Gillespie scored to give the Big Macs a lead. With the game on the line, Caroline Taylor’s shot hit the crossbar to end the game. The Big Macs won the penalty kicks, 4-3. Canon-McMillan (15-3-1) advances to the semifinals against Section 4-AAA rival Moon on Monday at a site and time to be determined. The Indians’ season ends with a 16-2-2 overall record. After losing one-goal games to Peters Township for several years, Canon-McMillan prevailed.
“It feels amazing to finally beat them after four years,” Gillespie said. “I love it. I’ve never had this feeling before.”
The two teams traded goals through the first round before Cheyenne Trest gave Canon-McMillan the advantage in the second round. The Indians tied it up one round later on Madeline LaVigna’s goal before Gillespie’s shot beat goalkeeper Reilly McGlumphy.
With the game on the line, Peters Township’s final attempt was inches away from the open net.
“These girls poured their hearts into it,” Canon-McMillan head coach Dave Derrico said. “We finally got on the right end. I’m relieved to break that streak.”
Last season, the Indians earned two playoff wins on penalty kicks to punch their ticket to the WPIAL title game. This time, the shots did not go in their favor.
“We’ve been on both sides of these shootouts before,” Peters Township coach Pat Vereb said. “We’ve gotten to the title game based on these. Unfortunately, it’s the only way a game can end after two overtimes. This is a big year for Canon-Mac. It’s unfortunate this game was in the second round instead of later in the playoffs.”
Peters Township almost ended the game three minutes into the first overtime when junior Erin Helbig sprinted toward the CM net. Big Macs senior goalkeeper Kyra Murphy exited the net to challenge Helbig. The ball went six feet wide of Murphy and Helbig had a wide open net, but her shot hit the goal post and trickled along the goal line and went out of bounds. In the second overtime, the Indians again thought they walked away with an overtime win. Helbig’s shot on net was smothered by Murphy, but the ball was sitting next to her body. Sophomore forward Mia Toscano knocked the rebound into the empty net, but the officials negated the goal because of goaltender interference.
Less than five minutes later, Trest found sophomore forward Sabrina Bryan with a centering pass in the slot, but Bryan’s shot sailed inches over the crossbar. In the end, it was Gillespie’s leg that broke the Big Macs’ eight-year losing streak against Peters Township.
“To see the girls’ faces and the joy in their eyes after that win was great,” Derrico said. “It’s even difficult for me to express that. I was hoping for this result because as the saying goes, it’s difficult to beat the same team three times in one season. We wanted the luck to turn in our favor and we were blessed that it did.”
The Big Macs took a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute when senior midfielder Allison Oddi’s corner kick was knocked into Peters Township’s net by an Indians defender. Less than three minutes later, Carpenter tied the game. The West Virginia recruit was fouled in CM’s end to set up a free kick from 25 yards. Her shot went into the top left corner of the net.
Canon-McMillan controlled time of possession throughout the second half but could not capitalize. Bryan, Trest and sophomore forward Aideen O’Donoghue created a scoring chance in the 63rd minute with creative passing in front of the net, but one too many passes allowed a Peters Township defender to deflect the ball away.
The Indians finally gained some momentum with less than six minutes remaining when Carpenter took a corner kick. The ball sailed across the goal mouth with several Indians players waiting to head the ball into the open net, but Murphy snatched it out of the air. With a speedy attack up top that created chances throughout the game and a defense that collapsed on the Indians’ forwards, the Big Macs swung momentum in their favor.
“They kept trying to sneak the ball behind our defenders because that’s what always works for them, but our girls did a great job of stopping that,” Derrico said. “We kept making opportunities and figured we’d get a goal in regulation. It was tough to wait, but the result is all that matters.”