Lance Lysowski | Observer Reporter

Peters Township had every reason to stumble in its first round WPIAL playoff game. The Indians went 3-3-1 against teams in the playoff bracket since star player Vernoica Latsko suffered a season-ending knee injury. But the Indians’ opponent in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs, Latrobe, was making its first postseason appearance in 20 years.

A playoff-experienced Peters Township took advantage of any opening-round jitters Latrobe might have had, scoring three goals in the first 11 minutes, as the Indians cruised to a 3-0 win over the Wildcats.

Peters Township (14-4-1), the three-time defending PIAA champion, started quickly, as sophomore defender Madeline Lavigna capitalized on a loose ball in front of the Latrobe (11-7-1) net for a score. A little over one minute later, junior defender Carly Johns scored off a free kick.

“There’s no focus issue whatsoever because there a lot of fresh faces,” Peters Township head coach Pat Vereb said. “For a lot of kids, it’s basically just getting them to understand the importance that first round games are always tough. Fortunately, we came out hard really quick and sort of put the game away in the first 15 minutes. We didn’t have to give into an exhausting battle.”

The Indians controlled possession in the first half of the game, forcing Latrobe into mental errors and pushing the ball downfield. After two corner kicks early, Peters Township capitalized on its third opportunity when sophomore defender Mariah Vucich’s passed to junior midfielder Laurel Carpenter, who fired a header past the goalie for a 3-0 lead.

This season has been different than previous ones for Peters Township. With two WPIAL Class AAA titles in three seasons, the program has seen undefeated seasons and state championships. When Latsko tore the ACL in her left knee, the team’s depth was put to the test and responded. “It’s a testament to the program and how hard the girls work,” Vereb said of his team overcoming injuries. “You play a hard schedule all year to prepare for this moment. Obviously we aren’t an undefeated team like in previous years but trying to get the young girls battle-tested and into a playoff-like pressure situation.”

The second-half of Saturday’s match tested the team’s defensive unit, as Latrobe stretched the field with long passes and had three free kicks, but Indians senior goalkeeper Megan Parker shut down several scoring opportunities. The defense also caused pivotal turnovers by intercepting passes and executed flawless positioning.

With postseason accolades aplenty, Peters Township will not be overlooked in the a tough Class AAA bracket, but according to Johns, the target on Indians’ back is the least of their worries. “It’s honesty motivation,” Johns said. “We know teams want to beat us, but we want to keep our title and keep fighting.

The win sets up a game against 10th-seeded Pine-Richland on Wednesday. The Rams defeated Penn Trafford at Norwin on Saturday. Vereb said the key to winning in the postseason is to bring a unique perspective to each opponent, scout their strengths, weaknesses and make adjustments from there.

“If we feel that we can expose something, we’ll play an attacking style,” Vereb said. “If not, we’ll play a more reserved style.”