Belle Vernon Area wins biggest game in soccer program's history
Heading into its quarterfinal tilt against fourth-seeded Hopewell Tuesday night, Belle Vernon Area coach Paul Sasko said the match was the biggest in the program's history.
After all, the Lady Leps (17-2-1) had made it to the quarterfinals three previous times, yet came up short each time.
But thanks to BVA's 2-0 win Wednesday night at Baldwin, Sasko can now refer to the contest as the biggest win in program history.
“Hopewell is a tremendous team and our girls had to step up,” Sasko said. “Everyone played well and our girls deserve this.
“I told them how many great players and teams that we have had and we never got to the semis. It was up to the girls and they brought it home. This is absolutely the most important win in school history.”
Hopewell (13-3-3) had its first scoring opportunity a mere 4:30 into the contest, but Ashly Gagliardi made a diving save on a shot by Lauren Krawchyk.
The save would be the first of 14 for the BVA junior keeper with several being from point-blank range.
“Hopewell had more chances than we did but we were able to take advantage of a couple and were able to find the back of the net,” Sasko said. “But our girls in the back played really well and stepped up.”
As the contest neared the 29-minute mark of the first half, BVA got its first real chance to score, and the Lady Leps capitalized.
Senior Kylie Kikta put the ball in play on a corner kick, and junior Hayden Pascoe buried it into the back of the net with 28:55 to go until intermission to make it 1-0.
“Kylie hit a great corner and Hayden made the play,” Sasko said. “The goal gave us confidence and our fans really got into the game.”
Hopewell put pressure on BVA throughout the rest of the first half, but it was BVA senior Lauren Kovalchuk who almost netted the next goal.
With 5:33 left in the first half, Kovalchuk put a ball towards the net, but Hopewell goalkeeper Kyra Honeywill made a huge save.
“Getting the lead was important,” Sasko said. “It always is, but we didn't think there wouldn't be a lot of scoring.”
Hopewell put the pressure on to start the second half, but the Lady Leps stepped up despite the Lady Vikings putting seven shots on Gagliardi in the opening 15 minutes, including two from point-blank range, BVA weathered the storm.
“For the first so many minutes of the second half, we were on our heels and could have been in trouble,” Sasko said. “But we stepped up to the challenge and played them even after that stretch.”
The play evened out and with 22:15 left, Lauren Kovalchuk played a pass from Pascoe and while falling to the ground, she put the ball past Honeywill to give BVA an insurance goal that it would ultimately not need.
“She kind of shoots leaning back as it is,” Sasko said of Kovalchuk. “It was a great shot. Lauren and Hayden have scored for us all year and they did it again.”
Sasko also pointed out the play of his defense and how they would not allow Hopewell to score.
The group included defenders Heather Wells, Courtney Hrycko, Stephanie Morgan, Kikta, and Maggie Lewis as well as Rebecca Buza who played the defensive midfield while Gagliardi recorded her 12th shutout of the season.
“The girls in the back played really well,” he said. “And Ashly made some tremendous plays.”
The Lady Leps will now play Mars, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions, Tuesday night at a site to be determined. The win also guarantees BVA will play at least two more games.
A win over Mars puts BVA in the WPIAL title game for the first time while a loss would put BVA in the consolation game with a chance to get into the PIAA playoffs.
Moon 4, Yough 0
The most successful season in girls' soccer history at Yough ended with the Class AA quarterfinal shutout to second-seeded Moon (19-1) at Chartiers Valley.
Yough (16-4) has an underclassmen-laden team and first year coach Dann Appolonia is well-stocked for the future and a possible deeper run in the playoffs in the coming years.
“Moon is a very good, senior-oriented team and we knew going in we would have our hands full, “ said Appolonia. “I thought the girls played really well. They gave it their all and it was only 2-0 midway through the second half.”
Yough loses only one senior starter, Taylor Hampshire.
Moon, which got four goals from four different players, will meet Central Valley (16-0-2), which beat South Park, 1-0, in the semifinals.
Bill Hughes is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.