Lance Lysowski | Observer Reporter

Peters Township head coach Pat Vereb has been leading a WPIAL girls soccer programs for 18 years. That run included six consecutive WPIAL Class AAA title game appearances, two WPIAL titles and three consecutive state championships.

Vereb can’t quite put his finger on why, but the first playoff game always seems to be the most difficult. That wasn’t the case Saturday afternoon.

The Indians scored four goals in 17 minutes and sophomore striker Mia Toscano had a hat trick in route to a 6-3 victory over Baldwin in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.

Peters Township (16-1-2) advances to the second round, where it will face Canon-McMillan for the third time this season on Wednesday at a site and time to be determined, while the Highlanders’ season ends with an 11-8 record.

“When you score six goals, you can’t be pessimistic about your play,” Vereb said. “I’m excited we were on the attack throughout the whole game, scored the goals and, hopefully, that will continue next game.”

At the beginning of the season, Peters Township was once again looking for a forward to pace its offensive attack. Every game ended with a different player recording the key goal. With rain falling and large gusts of wind dropping temperatures into the mid-40s, it was Toscano who shined.

One year after playing a large role in the Indians’ run to the WPIAL title game, Toscano improved dramatically. She gave Peters Township a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute when junior Madeline LaVigna sprinted up the far sideline and found Toscano sprinting toward the goal with a perfectly placed touch pass. Toscano one-timed it in. She added her second goal six minutes later when she chipped a shot toward Baldwin’s keeper and a defender knocked it into the net. She completed the hat trick on a header in the 49th minute off a lob pass from freshman Breeanne Latsko.

“It was nerve-racking coming in at first and finding your feet,” Toscano said of her freshman year. “”I was scared, but it’s a lot better now. I kind of know a lot more about what’s going on. Last year, I didn’t know.”

The Indians sustained offensive pressure in the first half and took a 3-0 lead in the 14th minute when senior striker Carly Johns collected a pass from LaVigna and fired a shot into the far corner of the net. Three minutes later, senior defender Madison Schwerzler found junior Erin Helbig sprinting toward the net. Helbig collected the pass, split two defenders and shot it over the keeper’s shoulder for a 4-0 lead.

“We never really know who the goals are going to come from and that’s a good quality to have,” Vereb said. “”You want girls to be able to step up and contribute when you have to. I’d rather not rely on one kid.”

Baldwin got on the scoreboard in the 32nd minute when freshman Haley Huber fired a shot over Indians keeper Reilly McGlumphy’s shoulder before Latsko scored on a header. Shortly after halftime, freshman Alina Stahl and junior Allison Breisinger scored in a four-minute span to draw Baldwin to within two goals, but Toscano completed the hat trick to put the game away.

Baldwin head coach Caley Troutman declined to comment on the game. Peters Township is now set for a rematch with the Big Macs, who defeated Franklin Regional, 2-1, Saturday. The Indians beat Canon-McMillan twice by one goal during the regular season.

“The reality is two of the top teams in the WPIAL are playing too early,” Vereb said. “It’s going to be a very physical, emotional game. No one is going to win easily. It’s going to be a fight. It’s just a shame one of the two better teams is going to be out after Wednesday night.”