Gateway girls battling for playoff positioning down the stretch
The road to the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs has not been the easiest to travel this season for the Gateway varsity girls soccer team.
They were competitive against Section 4-AAA co-leader Bethel Park (1-0 loss) and took care of business against several of its Section 3 foes, but it also had to deal with some tough losses such as a 4-0 setback to Franklin Regional in the season opener, a 4-0 loss to Section 3 champ Fox Chapel and a frustrating 1-0 loss in overtime at rival Plum.
But, as the playoffs are on the horizon — Gateway is solidly in the Class AAA field — head coach Kevin Sanders said his team can make some noise and get back to where it was in the 2012 postseason.
He said it all comes down to simply playing as a team and each player showing their talents when the stage is the brightest.
That sentiment is echoed by senior forward Emily Stevens, one of the team's leading point scorers this season.
“We lost some great players from last year, and we've had to come together as a team,” Stevens said.
“I think we've really been doing that. It hasn't been easy in games, and we still have some work to do. We have a lot ahead of us.”
Gateway showed what it is capable of defensively in a 0-0 tie at Fox Chapel on Monday. It was the defense and senior goalkeeper Allie Warsaw's sixth shutout of the season.
The Gators offense finished with four shots on goal, and a shot from Gateway junior Maggie Hilton in the second half hit the post.
“Fox Chapel held possession well, and we played solid team defense,” Sanders said.
“We had a smaller bench due to injuries, and so did Fox Chapel. Both teams only used 13 players, and the girls looked tired at the end of regulation and in overtime.”
The Gators improved to 8-2-1 (25 points) and were slated to close out its section schedule Wednesday at home against Plum. The game was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.
The battle was for second place in the section behind Fox Chapel. The Mustangs improved to 7-3 (21 points) in section Monday with a 3-0 win at home against Penn Hills.
Plum also has to complete a game with Woodland Hills suspended from last week because of bad weather. The game will pick up Saturday afternoon with 30 minutes left in the first half and the Mustangs comfortably ahead, 4-0.
Gateway will wrap up the regular season with two nonsection games. The first one is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against Section 1-AAA champion Penn-Trafford.
The Warriors entered the week 10-0 in Section 1 and 11-3 overall.
One of Penn-Trafford's three losses was to Bethel Park, 1-0, earlier in the season.
The Gators also will play at Hampton on Monday at 7:30 p.m. The Talbots are 8-8 overall and 6-6 in a tough Section 2-AAA.
Hampton owns a 2-1 victory at Fox Chapel and lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to undefeated North Allegheny.
Sanders said the games against Fox Chapel and Plum, as well as Penn-Trafford and Hampton will go a long way in determining where the Gators end up seeded in a competitive playoff field.
“There are some big games on Saturday,” Sanders said.
“Penn-Trafford is the fourth section winner we will face this season (Bethel Park, Fox Chapel and Central Valley in AA). It will be a good test for us. Last year, we played all the section champions in AAA in the regular season except for Peters, but we saw them in the playoffs. With scheduling, you try to get the best and see where you are. If you want to be a better program, you have to play good teams.”
Sanders said games the past couple of weeks have had the playoff atmosphere because of what they meant to the playoffs. There are 10 players on the Gateway roster who played in the 2012 WPIAL playoffs.
The Gators added to their win total in section with a 4-0 home victory against Allderdice on Friday on senior night at Antimarino Stadium.
Stevens scored twice off of assists from junior Maggie Hilton and senior Hannah Feinberg.
Lizzie Pendice tallied a goal off a Hilton corner kick, and Hilton got into goal-scoring act with a tally in the second half assisted by Stevens.
Stevens entered the week with a team-best eight goals, while Hilton had seven goals to go along with 10 assists.
Gateway outshot Allderdice, 23-4.
Stevens, Feinberg, Warsaw and seniors Hanna Crable, Jackie Warsaw, Allena Pugliano, Hannah Smith and Kayli Nelson were honored in a ceremony before Friday's game.
Pugliano suffered an ACL injury on Sept. 30 against Bethel Park and most likely will miss the rest of the season.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.