PIAA Girls 1A Semifinal
Freedom 3, Shady Side Academy 2. 2OT
In a back-and-forth match PIAA girls Class 1A semifinal, Freedom girls soccer outlasted Shady Side Academy, winning 3-2 in double overtime to advance to its first-ever PIAA final.
Freedom’s senior forward Michaela Watkins scored twice including the game-winner in the 104th minute of the match as the teams started to extend each other playing long, direct balls.
Eventually Watkins broke behind the Shady Side back line, and beat goalkeeper Molly Skrovak to the ball.
“Everyone was getting tired legs, but Michaela had just enough energy to get one,” Colin Williams, Freedom’s head coach, said.
Freedom will now take on Southern Columbia on Friday, at 11 a.m. in Hershey in the PIAA Girls 1A Final.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Watkins opened the scoring early in the first half, as Freedom were pushing forward from the outset of the match. But this wasn’t going to a typical, easy victory for the Bulldogs, who’ve mostly steamrolled through most competition this season.
In the WPIAL semifinal in late October, Shady Side provided a stern challenge for Freedom, but the Bulldogs pulled out a 2-1 win to advance to the District final.
On Tuesday, they were pushed to the limit again.
“They’ve been the toughest opponent we’ve faced all season,” Williams acknowledged. “Each side showed how dangerous they can be, and it was a back-and-forth.”
The midfield battle between Freedom’s Sharpless sisters (freshman Jayden and senior Myla) and Shady Side’s senior leader Krystina Rytel and Melissa Riggins took turns controlling play.
By the end of the first half, Shady Side started to flip the field.
A few sequences into the final third included two corner kicks, a free kick and multiple shots on target right at goalkeeper Kassandra DePoppe.
Riggins seized an opportunity from the top of the box in the 34th minute, taking a touch, then ripping a shot past DePoppe for the equalizer.
The second half opened with Shady Side continuing with stronger bouts of possession, but they couldn’t get the go-ahead goal.
Freedom’s potent attack couldn’t be held down for too long either, as Myla Sharpless took matters into her own hands in the 67th minute, taking a touch outside the box on a ball played from the right side. Much like Riggins, she found some room to drive a shot into the back of the net from 18 yards to give Freedom a 2-1 edge.
The defending PIAA champion Indians battled back.
Rytel started pushing up higher into the attack, and in the 70th minute, she found forward Sophia McMahon with a through ball in stride and into the box. McMahon proceeded to miss on a solid chance to beat DePoppe.
The Indians kept pressing.
Eventually in the 78th minute, a ball made its way through the box to find McMahon alone with the ball at the far post.
This time the senior forward connected on a low shot that tied the match at 2-2 – forcing the teams to play into extra time.
Shady Side carried most of the momentum, and chances into the first overtime, but much like in the beginning of the second half, couldn’t convert on mostly long, direct opportunities.
It was Freedom though, who broke through.
Again it was Watkins, a Youngstown State recruit, who used her speed to beat Shady Side’s defenders to the ball — and she slid one past Skvorak for the game winner that have the Bulldogs heading to Hershey.
“We’re excited. There’s no time to be tired. We’re ready to get on the bus Thursday,” Williams said. “I am very proud of their effort. It’s such as satisfying win.”
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – MICHAELA WATKINS
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) November 14, 2018