MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — There was rarely a dull moment for the North Catholic girls’ soccer team en route to its first WPIAL championship appearance, but there were a couple Sharpless ones.
Sophomore striker Jayden Sharpless scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 28th minute of a 4-0 defeat of defending champion South Park in a WPIAL Class 2A semifinal match at Moon Area High School’s Tiger Stadium Monday night.
Sharpless, poised on the far side of the field, launched a stunning 30-yard ball that went beyond the head and hands of leaping goalkeeper Ali Miklos, somehow destined for the top right corner and the game’s first score.
“Honestly, I don’t even know what happened,” she laughed. “I just tried to put it on frame and hoped for the best.”
One year removed from her district rookie scoring title, the Freedom transfer chipped another one over Miklos from outside the 18-yard box with just over ten minutes left in regulation for a 3-0 lead, ensuring an unprecedented trip to Highmark Stadium for the Trojans (13-4-0).
“It’s program history, so it’s definitely a new feeling for the program, and myself,” said head coach Emily Karr. “We are incredibly excited.”
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It was certainly a reversal of fortune for South Park, coming off a 4-0 whitewashing of its own against Deer Lakes in quarterfinal play. The Eagles (13-4-1), who shared top honors in Section 3 with Yough, were forced to settle for a consolation match with Freeport, which fell to Yough Monday, to decide the final WPIAL spot in the PIAA Class 2-A tournament.
North Catholic, by earning a date with the Cougars in the WPIAL Class 2-A Final, has concurrently earned a state playoff berth, regardless of the result.
“We actually watched [South Park’s] final from last year, for two reasons. For one, they’re a fantastic program, and I wanted to show our team how a championship is won,” Karr said. “Shelly [Thropp] is a fantastic coach. I knew they’d be prepared. I knew they’d be organized.
“We gave them as much respect as we could, but we also knew that we had an opportunity here to win. We were very excited to play them.”
The first ten minutes Monday were a feeling-out process for both sides, but then the Trojans showed signs of breaking the game open. Tehya Dave, another sophomore forward, saw a golden chance at a loose ball thwarted by Miklos moments before that thing of beauty by Sharpless.
“Putting us two together is dangerous. We just connect so well,” said Sharpless. “[Coach Karr] told us before the game that we were going to have a lot of shots from outside the box, because they were good at clearing it from the inside. We tried to shoot from further out.”
Dave, a menace in the attacking third for most of the evening, would not be denied. She out-hustled her defender, and an oncoming Miklos, to a ball at the top of the box and blasted it into the vacant goal to double North Catholic’s advantage with 9:48 gone by in the second half.
At the other end, junior keeper Andrea Bean, with substantial help from her back line, withstood early pressure from South Park coming out of the break to preserve her team’s third clean sheet in its last four games.
Senior midfielder Maddie Laird came off the bench and carbon-copied the wonder-strike by Sharpless, from the opposite side of the field, with 1:14 remaining to provide the final margin.
Saturday’s championship contest kicks off at 10:00 A.M. ET on the South Side. Fans can visit Ticketmaster to obtain $10.00 adult tickets and/or $5.00 student tickets.
“It’s going to be a brand new experience for all of us, and all these players,” said Karr. “As long as we can stay disciplined, and not let the moment outshine us, that’ll be how we play up.”
“We just have to work hard and prepare,” Sharpless said. “I think our energy is so high right now that we’re ready for anything.”