MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The North Allegheny girls’ soccer team did not take the most harmonious road to Highmark Stadium for Thursday’s WPIAL championship round, but their Bella, when called upon, was perfect on the pitch.
Senior Isabella Pietropola converted for the Tigers (16-2-1) in the fifth round to cap off a 4-2 triumph on penalty kicks over Peters Township (17-2-1), following a 1-1 draw after extra time, in a Class 4-A semifinal match at Moon Area High School’s Tiger Stadium Monday night.
DAVID HAGUE PHOTO GALLERY
It was a fittingly dramatic conclusion to a contest that wasn’t for gold medals or trophies of any kind, but, given the stakes, the relatively mistake-free run of play and the next-level talent on both sides, might as well have been.
“Just the ups and downs…scoring a goal early, then seeing them come back and score on an amazing free kick, then us fighting through…it was a heavyweight game,” head coach Chuck Kelley said. “In the PK’s, both goalkeepers were awesome.
“There was a lot going on out there tonight.”
Two juniors, North Allegheny’s Madison Vukas and Peters Township’s Emma Sawich, improbably traded saves in the first round of penalties after 110 minutes of play could not yield a victor.
Sarah Schupansky, who put the Tigers up early in the second half, finally broke the ice before Kaila McFerran answered for the Indians. Then, Ava Ruppersberger scored for N.A., and Mia Gentile evened the shootout for Peters.
After a Hallie Marsalis goal, Vukas denied Cece Scott to set the stage for Pietropola. As so many youngsters have dreamed of scoring winning goals in their backyards, “Bella” got to bring to reality a fantasy her team had been dreaming for some time.
“I was really nervous, but I knew, if I made it, our team would get a chance to play at Highmark,” said Pietropola. “We worked really hard as a team to make it this far, so I’m excited.
“All us seniors, since our freshman year, have talked about making it to Highmark our senior year–that that would be our year.”
Schupansky, who became more of a nuisance in the attacking third as the game wore on, nearly made it a moot point in the final seconds of the first 15-minute, golden-goal overtime period. Emma Bundy crashed the net and tried to deflect home her long shot-pass, but Sawich anticipated the play perfectly to make a sliding stop.
Generally, possession favored Peters Township in the second extra session. However, the biggest threats it could muster were a long attempt by McFerran off a set piece that fell harmlessly in front of Vukas, and a shot by Jillian Marvin that sailed just wide of the right post moments before time expired.
“We did it by never giving up. Never giving up on each other, and just continuing to play,” Kelley said. “That’s our whole mantra: continuing to play for one another.”
Neither team seemed willing to give up anything, until Schupansky put North Allegheny on top in the 43rd minute. The Riverhounds Academy product raced down the right wing and skillfully chipped a shot over Sawich, right into the far corner of the net.
The Indians leveled with 29:29 to play after a nice run by Sarah Heisinger along the far touchline drew a foul on Vukas. Senior forward Hannah Stuck, from over 20 yards out, shot a cannon of a free kick into the top right corner, just out of Vukas’ reach.
Still, the N.A. netminder withstood late pressure from Peters, and another dangerous free kick, this time from Brooke Opferman in the last minute of the half, to force OT.
“We had to watch film and change up our practices, but we basically just played how we know how to play,” Pietropola said. “We didn’t really change much.”
Now the Tigers will look to change their luck against Norwin, only the second–and most recent–team to beat N.A., in Thursday’s 6:00 P.M. ET final. The Knights prevailed, 3-1, in their Oct. 10 match, and they are playing in the championship game for the fourth time in five years.
Both teams are guaranteed spots in the PIAA tournament, while Peters Township ends its 2019 season with a share of the Section 2 crown after seeing its seven-game winning streak snapped Monday.
“We look forward to the opportunity to play, and to continue our season,” said Kelley, after being hoisted up on the shoulders of his exuberant players. “This has a lot to do with what we’ve tried to accomplish with our program, the togetherness. It hasn’t been about one person. It’s been about us, as a group.”
Fans can purchase $10.00 WPIAL championship tickets and/or $5.00 student tickets by visiting Ticketmaster.