Gateway girls' postseason run halted by Bethel Park
The Gateway varsity girls soccer team formulated several big goals in the offseason, as only two seniors were lost from last year's playoff squad.
A Section 3 championship, a strong run in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament and a trip to states were in their sights.
But the Gators' hopes of reaching the PIAA tournament were dashed Saturday with a 3-1 loss to Bethel Park in a WPIAL consolation game at Elizabeth Forward High School.
The top three teams from Class AAA advanced to states, and Gateway fell just shy of that goal, but Gators head coach Kevin Sanders said many other goals were realized and it was a successful season.
“I just want them to be proud of what they accomplished this year,” Sanders said. “The girls came out and played hard (on Saturday). We didn't get the bounces we needed. We wanted to get in (the state tournament), but it just wasn't our day.”
Gateway wrapped up its season 16-5-1, and the back-to-back losses — to Peters Township in the semifinals on Wednesday and in Saturday's consolation game — was the first time the Gators lost two games in a row all season.
The team made the semifinals for the first time in the 27-year history of the program.
Gateway finished section play 11-0-1, with its only blemish coming in a 2-2 tie against Plum.
The Gators swept Fox Chapel, including a 2-1 victory on Oct. 8 that clinched their second section crown in three years (2010) and the seventh section title in team history.
“One of their goals this year was to become more of a team,” Sanders said.
“They worked hard and put in the time to get in shape and get ready for the season. They saw the talent was there to have a great year. Whether someone was a starter or a reserve, the girls understood what their roles were. They competed at a high level to make this team better.
“When one player wasn't having a great day in a game or practice, others picked her up,” Sanders said.
“That was key for us. Like (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin says, ‘Next man up.' There's a lot of truth to that.”
Sanders said a lot of players stepped up, battled back from injuries and switched positions for the good of the team.
Bethel Park got on the board first on Saturday, as sophomore midfielder Halle Hammer scored at 31:41 off a crossing-pass assist from junior midfielder Tatiana Ruzzini.
As the first half wore on, Gateway started to gain momentum and had several good offensive chances.
A crossing pass from senior Carly Seneca with 25 minutes to play in the first half went through the goal box, and no Gateway players was able to get a foot on the ball.
Sophomore Maggie Hil- ton's corner kick about a minute later was turned away by the Bethel defense, and a strong shot by Seneca from point-blank range at about 15 yards was stopped by the Bethel Park goalkeeper.
Another corner kick and a good scoring attempt from Hilton were unsuccessful with 22 minutes to go until halftime, and Bethel rode its 1-0 lead into the break.
Bethel Park made it 2-0 with 27:32 left in regulation, as Hammer came out with the ball after a collision of heads between a Black Hawks player and Gateway junior Hanna Crable and scored.
“I think a foul should've been called and play should've been stopped,” Sanders said. “Our defense slowed down, especially in this day and age in sports, where safety when it comes to the head is such a big issue.”
Undaunted, Gateway came back, and junior midfielder Hannah Feinberg scored from 20 yards out with 15:10 left to make it 2-1.
Seneca suffered a rib injury during a collision with Bethel junior Lindsay Boss at 12:49, and Seneca briefly left the game.
“Carly played through it, but it really took some momentum away from us,” Sanders said.
Bethel Park got an insurance goal from Ruzzini with 2:30 left.
Seneca, Rachel Rettger, Danielle Crable, Danielle Kravits, Becca Smith and Allison Reed put on the Gateway uniform for the final time on Saturday.
Alissa Bendorf, another senior, missed the entire season with a left ACL injury, but she remained with the team and served as the team's scorekeeper on Saturday.
“From working really hard to get ready for the season, to not be able to play at all was really tough,” said Bendorf, who was scheduled to have surgery on the knee Wednesday. “I was never able to play a full varsity season, but all my teammates have been really supportive through this.”
Bendorf missed the last half of the 2011 season with a torn ACL in the same knee.
In the preseason, she partially torn the ACL in the left knee but wanted to continue playing and suited up for the Penn Hills JV game on Sept. 10.
She was going to play in the varsity game against Penn Trafford three days later, but she fully tore the ACL in practice before the game with the Warriors.
“That was the thing I was looking to get from players like Alissa,” Sanders said.
“They wanted to play and did whatever it took to get on the field. That's the character of what these girls stood for. We battled through a lot of injuries at the start of the season, and others came back from injuries to contribute greatly to the team.”
Seneca, who will play soccer at the next level at Pitt, finished the 2012 season with 24 goals and nine assists. She ended her four-year career with 66 goals and 44 assists.
Seneca leaves Gateway as one of the program's most decorated players in terms of all-star honors at the section, WPIAL and state levels.
Despite losing a lot of talent to graduation, a lot of talent returns.
Hilton was second on the team in goals scored with 13, and she had a team-best 15 assists, while junior Emily Stevens added 10 goals and 10 assists.
Junior goalkeeper Allie Warsaw helped Gateway forge seven shutouts this season. She gave up only 23 goals in 21 games played.
Feinberg and Hanna Crable; junior Jackie Warsaw; sophomores Cara Finoli, Rachel Giannangeli and Lizzie Pendice; and freshman Kayla Trozzi also formed the core of the varsity this season and are eligible to return in 2013.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.