Magical Norwin run ends in heartbreaker
For the second straight season, the Norwin girls soccer team fell victim to Erie McDowell in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs.
One year after the Lady Knights were knocked out of the postseason with a 1-0 first-round loss to the Lady Trojans, Norwin dropped crushing 1-0 overtime heartbreaker to Erie McDowell Tuesday in the state playoff semifinals at Neshannock High School's Bob Bleggi Stadium.
For first-year Lady Knights coach Danielle Baginski, the loss was a little taste of her own medicine. Last season Baginski patrolled the Lady Trojans sidelines as head coach.
"It kind of sucks, but I'm happy for them," said Baginski, who still teaches at Erie McDowell.
"I'm sad for (my team) because they played really well. Like I said, I have a personal interest in both teams."
In only the second minute of overtime, Lady Trojans (21-3) senior midfielder and team captain Michelle Holcomb beat Lady Knights (18-5-1) goalkeeper Ali Viola for the only goal of the contest to send her team to the state title game for the first time since 1995.
"Coming into the overtime we were just wanting it more," Holcomb said. "Nobody thought that they were tired and we just stepped it up."
Senior forward Annie Walbridge provided a perfect crossing pass from the right sideline and found Holcomb breaking away from two Norwin defenders just inside the box.
"She split the defense," Baginski said. "I said you've got to watch (Holcomb); she's the one who scored with eight seconds left in the last game and she's fast. They're deceivingly fast. We just got beat in the back."
Erie McDowell never has won a PIAA championship in girls soccer, but will take to the field Saturday in Hershey for the third state title game in the school's history.
In the history of the PIAA tournament, no District 10 team ever has won a championship.
"We were there in '93 and '95 and never won it," first-year Lady Trojans coach Jason Perkins said. "Hopefully we can change that."
After falling a game short of the WPIAL title game with a loss to Peters Township last month, Norwin advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2004.
The Lady Knights program has one PIAA championship to its credit, in 1996, after earning state runner-up honors in 1995.
With a run that included a WPIAL postseason victory over previously undefeated top-seed Moon and a PIAA playoff win over formerly unblemished WPIAL champion Seneca Valley, Baginski couldn't be more proud of her team and the strides it made this season.
"No one expected us to do what we did this year," she said. "I mean, me coming in and changing a bunch of stuff, I'm proud of the girls. I feel really, really bad. (But), I'm really, really proud of them."
Although the Lady Knights ultimately lost the match, they certainly had their fair share of chances to set themselves up for a win in the second half.
The first scoring chance came in the 11th minute when midfielder Samantha Kalup was stopped by diving Lady Trojans goalkeeper Ashley Boyd on an uncontested shot just 15 yards away from the goal.
Just two minutes later Boyd made another sprawling save on a shot by Rachel DelleFemine before stopping uncontested shots by Pitt recruit Dana DelleFemine and midfielder Casey Harsch later in the half.
"She played a great game," Baginski said. "Their coaches said, 'If it wasn't for her we wouldn't be in this game.' She was the MVP of the game, absolutely."
During her fantastic second half, Boyd tallied eight saves and finished the game with 10.
"It was fantastic," Perkins said. "She absolutely stood on her head tonight and I think that had a big effect on the rest of the players. When she came up big on a save, I think that got all our players fired up, too."
Though Norwin fell one game short of both the WPIAL and PIAA championship games with a pair of semifinal losses this season, Baginski will use the postseason shortcomings to build the future of her program.
"We're losing a lot of seniors, but we also have a lot of juniors and a lot of sophomores that are coming up," Baginski said. "We definitely want to take the ball and run with it now."