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Oakland Catholic ‘owns the box’ to beat Mars in OT for first WPIAL soccer crown

Oakland Catholic's Anna Sproule scores the game winning goal in OT. Photo by David Hague
WPIAL Girls 3A Soccer Final

Oakland Catholic 1, Mars 0, OT

In a match where Oakland Catholic was hanging on for stretches against potent and undefeated Mars, Anna Sproule‘s goal on the receiving end of a corner kick halfway through the first extra time period, gave the Eagles a 1-0 win to capture the WPIAL Girls 3A soccer title on Friday night at Highmark Stadium.

In the third straight WPIAL final played this weekend, Oakland Catholic became yet another team to win a WPIAL crown for the first time in school history.

On Thursday, Avonworth and Franklin Regional boys teams won the Class 1A and 3A titles respectively.


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Oakland Catholic and Mars were the dominant teams in their classification this season, each rolling through the competition. Between the two teams, only one had suffered a loss.

That one loss though, to top-ranked team in 4A, Seneca Valley, came in the first game of the season for Oakland Catholic and it had a lasting effect for a championship run.

“From box-to-box, we completely outplayed them (Seneca),” Jim Earle, Oakland Catholic’s head coach said. “But inside the box they killed us in both boxes. After that game, our motto was ‘own the box’. We learned so much about ourselves that game.”

In a match where Mars kept attacking — they couldn’t make that extra pass to get into the box as Oakland Catholic remained compact in the back, forcing Mars to continuously settle for corner kicks — 14 of them in total.

And every time, Oakland Catholic’s marking and organized team defense denied Mars its chances.

Despite carrying much of the play, Mars couldn’t execute in the final third.

“At this time of year, everyone has a good defense,” Blair Gerlach, Mars coach said. “We created a lot of maybe’s. Sometimes it comes down to who gets the bounce. They played hard. They were physical, But at the end of the day, we didn’t have the energy we needed to get our job done today.”

In the first half, Mars had the only two shots on target — both coming from right wingers – Leana Cuzzocrea and Londynn Gonzalez.

As the second half began, Oakland Catholic’s talented midfielders Catie Hassett and Hannah Henn did a decent job of sustaining some extended possession, but following its third corner attempt of the match, Mars would turn things up a notch.

Within a five minute stretch from the 45th to the 50th minutes, Mars brought four corner attempts.

Each time, they were turned back.

As Mars, with its own dynamic and probably more athletic midfield, led by future Pitt Panther, sophomore Ellie Coffield took command of the match for long stretches. Oakland Catholic’s back line and holding midfielder Hassett were anticipating diagonal passes by intercepting balls, winning most duels in the box and in the final twenty minutes of the match, blocked three different shot attempts.

And there was goalkeeper Maggie Storti, who only had to make three saves in the match, but also came off the line on a few dangerous corners to take command of the box.

“Our defense has been fantastic all season — and especially now. We haven’t given up a goal in the playoffs,” Earle said. “We knew they’d be dangerous, especially number 38 (Hamlett). She’s so tough, physical and skilled. It was a real struggle. They’re going to possess. We had to weather the storm. I thought our girls did a good job, they were calm, they never panicked.”

Suddenly, with a team that’s used to scoring and getting forward and possessing the ball, Oakland Catholic had to become the countering team in this game. And for long stretches of the second half, they simply didn’t have the numbers and were getting the ball forward to Henn in the middle of the field after each defensive stop, Henn kept trying to locate her top of the line target, Sproule, to little or no avail.

Foreshadowing what would come later in overtime, the Eagles finally earned another corner kick in the 72nd minute. And after dominating much of the second half, Mars got a taste of how lethal Oakland Catholic is on corner kicks.

Eighty minutes wouldn’t settle the score, as both teams came off the field looking spent.

“I was cramping up, and knew we might need to score in the first overtime,” Sproule said after the match.

Heading into extra time, it appeared that Oakland Catholic had the momentum.

Mars attempted its 14th and final corner kick of the match a few minutes into the extra period.

Then Oakland Catholic would have its chance again in the 93rd minute of the match.

The ball was played to the near post, as at least three Oakland Catholic players converged, as it was Sproule who beat Mars keeper Claire Valentine to the ball.

That set off quite a celebration for a team — all running to celebrate maybe fittingly just inside the box.

“It’s fitting that we scored on one in the box, and we kept them out of it,” Earle said. “We did really well defending the box. They had a lot of corners, and I was nervous on every one. But Mars played great, and it could have gone either way. We have a lot of girls that can put it in the back of the net. It was phenomenal to get that one in the end.”


John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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