An early morning matchup in the crisp fall air welcomed Yough and North Catholic to Highmark Stadium for the Class 2A championship. It was tight affair, that remained scoreless until late in double overtime when North Catholic’s sophomore scoring wiz Jayden Sharpless stepped up to drill the game-winner on a 25 yard free kick attempt.
“We deserve it,” Sharpless said. “We just made history for North Catholic.”
With the win, North Catholic won its first-ever girls soccer WPIAL title, in a match-up that featured two schools making its district championship debut.
ED THOMPSON PHOTO GALLERY
HOW IT HAPPENED
The game would feature Yough’s Justine Appolonia a Youngstown State commit, McKenzie Pritts and Natalie Vilcheck who have combined for over 60 goals on the season for the Lady Cougars.
North Catholic’s Sharpless, a transfer from Freedom who last year had more than 60 goals and won a Class 1A title. This year Sharpless’ goal totals are down, with 17 during the regular season, as she had to sit for a short period of time. at the beginning of the season.
Yough, despite having three goal scoring threats plays a very disciplined shape were able to transition and get players back behind the ball and defend quickly. A solid possession team — Yough also kept the ball in long enough stretches to make North Catholic work a little harder all morning.
“They were very organized. Especially in dead ball situations,” Emily Karr, North Catholic’s coach said. “Anytime they could, they would get numbers behind the ball. They were prepared. They also kept the ball a good bit, which forced us to defend, and kept us from getting forward.
North Catholic generated the few chances between teams for much of regulation with five shots on goal
Its most threatening opportunity in regulation came from the foot of Sharpless when she was able to coral a ball and go right on the edge of 18 yard box, then pull a shot into the outside side netting on the short side post.
Yough held their position defensively with goal keeper Sara Krocheck handling everything sent her way.
In working to get forward, Yough put together some runs but could only find the frame one time in the first half.
The second half would see Yough start applying pressure on North Catholic’s back four but each time, they could not get a clean look on goal. McKenzie Pritts was getting into some dangerous areas but could not connect with a teammate or get her shot into the back of the net.
“I told them at half, we were sitting back a bit too much. We play a patient game of soccer. It’s not like we race up and down the field for 80 minutes, I thought we weren’t forward moving enough with numbers,” Dann Appolonia, Yough’s head coach, said.
North Catholic was playing Sharpless as a high lone striker but a battle-tested Yough club did a good job getting back behind the ball and defending as a unit.
“Our section’s loaded with division 1 players,” the elder Appolonia added. “We didn’t treat her any different than any other player we’ve seen. Just wanted to make sure knew where she was, and be ready to defend her.“
The last great chance in regulation would come from Yough’s Appolonia off a corner kick.
Appolonia sent her corner just over the crossbar.
“Both teams had chances in the second half,” the elder Appolonia said. “And we had the better of them. We just couldn’t convert our chances or make that next pass.”
With that, regulation came to a halt still scoreless.
“We were worried about fitness. Heavy legs and conditioning at that point in the match,” Karr said.
The first overtime saw some back and forth action with Yough almost coming through with some magic.
Yough’s McKenzie Pritts had the best chance as she danced around some defenders and got in on goal and North Catholic goalkeeper Andrea Bean stood up to the challenge for the big save to keep it tied at zero.
“She saved the game for us. She won the championship for us there,” Karr said. “That was the best save I’ve ever seen her make right there. Point blank. That’s something she’s come into. She hasn’t always made the big save, but she’s matured so much this year. And really turned into a standout keeper, and to finally get some recognition for that is great.”
When the game headed into a second period of extra time — Karr implored her team to do what they do best.
“Before the second overtime we talked about having an attacking mindset. We weren’t going to play defensive, and be willing to go forward,” Karr said. “That’s what the players like to hear. That’s their natural attitude. We tried to lean into our strength there — and attack.”
The second overtime was playing out much like the first overtime. Things were open-ended, but legs were getting tired.
A foul on Yough would set up a free kick opportunity from 25 yards out.
North Catholic ran a player by and Sharpless then followed with the kick but the whistle blew as a Yough’s Hadley Sleith encroached inside of 10 yards, and would be sent off (for five minutes) with a yellow card.
It didn’t faze Sharpless, who had a little more time to line-up her kick after the first kick that was waved off just missed.
We were little lucky we had a second chance,” Sharpless said afterwards. “I didn’t want to go near post, because that’s where the keeper was. I wasn’t on the first couple, but after that…”
This time she made it count, finding the upper right corner and the Golden Goal.
here's the game winner from Jayden Sharpless that give North Catholic girls it's first-ever WPIAL soccer title, to beat Yough, 1-0 in 2OT pic.twitter.com/GzLSbyGIa5
— John Krysinsky (@PghSoccerScribe) November 2, 2019
“It was my shot,” Sharpless proclaimed with a smile.
“Players make the plays. I give them the ideas, the sessions, Karr said. “But they are the ones who make the plays on the field.”
Both teams will now move on to the PIAA tournament, which begins Tuesday.
POST-MATCH INTERVIEW: JAYDEN SHARPLESS