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Strong start fuels Mars girls to its sixth WPIAL title

Strong start fuels Mars girls to its sixth WPIAL title

Led by two goals from Taylor Hamlett, a goal and a pair of assists from Ellie Coffield along with another tally from Gracie Dunaway, Mars took command early, and cruised to a 4-0 win against Plum to capture its sixth overall WPIAL girls soccer title. 

“The emphasis on this game was trying to make sure that we would imposed ourselves early,” Blair Gerlach, Mars’ coach said. “They knew what it took to get here, having been here the previous two years. They didn’t want to bow out gracefully. The game plan was executed pretty well. It’s a phenomenal group of kids, and we’re blessed to be involved.”

ED THOMPSON PHOTO GALLERY 

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HOW IT HAPPENED

After back-to-back visits to the WPIAL finals coming up on the losing end, Mars head coach Blair Gerlach wanted to make sure his girls were ready to play at Pittsburgh’s soccer mecca — and even stepped out of his usual comfort zone.  

“The biggest factor in the game was going to be how difficult it is to play here (at Highmark Stadium),” Gerlach explained. “Beside the emotional side of things, you’ve got a train, a boat, the wind — and nobody can hear anything. So, we actually practiced with me not saying anything, so they would have to make decisions on their own. And there’s more than capable of doing that, but that’s not my style.” 

This Class 3A final brought a match up of two 17 win teams — both on hot steaks.

Undefeated coming into the match, Mars reached the final after a pair of 7-0 wins in the first two rounds, then a 2-0 win over a stingy Belle Vernon. 

Plum had a heart pumping victory in penalty kicks over Gateway, then a tough 1-0 win over West Allegheny. It would be interesting to see what kind of game this would turn out to be.

Mars would look to make it an open paced game. 

“They’re very, very quick. They did a good job of slicing through our defense,” James Stewart, Plum head coach said. “We tried to play a little more defensive early, in the first 10-20 minutes. They’re a really good team.”

An corner early gave Plum a chance to steal the early lead, but the ball sailed through the box and narrowly missed getting redirected,

“That first five to ten minutes, we tried to go hard though, and try to put some early pressure on them,” Stewart said. “We got the ball down there, and that would have been great. Could have given us a little more momentum.

From there, Mars turned on pressure.

A long ball played through to Middle Tennessee commit Taylor Hamlett would get her in behind the Plum defenders  and power a shot through the save attempt of Plum’s goalkeeper Erica Taylor 9:21 seconds into the game.

Deja vu all over again when another ball got played behind the Plum back 4 again and Hamlett was there again to get the brace and a Mars 2-0 lead.

“Once they got those two goals, it was tough from there,” Stewart added.

Mars would get their next goal off a corner kick from Pitt commit Ellie Coffield.

Coffield’s bent her corner inside the far back post for the third goal. 

Mars would get another corner kick minutes later and Coffield’s corner would this time find Gracie Dunaway whose shot maneuvered through traffic some how and trickle into the goal for Mars fourth of the game and 4:34 left in the half.

The two teams would head to half with Mars up 4-0.

Mars would take the second half and look to possess, keep their attack going forward and stifle Plum of any opportunities. 

Plum would continue to fight to get a goal on the board with their best chance coming with 7:30 left in the game.

When a ball played into the box saw a Plum’s Gina Proviano collided with Mars keeper Courtney Lisman who was able to get back up off the turf and push a shot wide to maintain the shutout.

Mars played a near perfect game. Applying pressure in the first half with well thought runs and passing to create the first two goals by Hamlett. Then add in two more goals coming from set pieces. 

Mars coach Blair Gerlach was able to reward his starters with three minutes left in the game by sending them all back out onto the field together to get their round of applause from the Mars faithful.

POST-MATCH INTERVIEW: TAYLOR HAMLETT 

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