Avonworth gets past Shady Side Academy to win 3rd straight WPIAL championship

Saturday, November 4, 2023 | 1:15 PM

Gianna Babusci knew her teammate Minah Syam had likely scored 15 minutes into the WPIAL Class 2A girls soccer championship Saturday at Highmark Stadium.

The fact the goal wasn’t given was immaterial. The Avonworth senior forward believed the Antelopes’ attack was too efficient not to produce more scoring opportunities.

“We knew we were going to get chances,” Babusci said. “It’s hard to dwell on that. We couldn’t let that dwell on us. We had to keep going. Mistakes are going to happen like that. It’s hard to see.”

Babusci launched a laser that found the back of the net with 42 seconds left before halftime to propel the Antelopes to a 1-0 win over Shady Side Academy to win their third straight district crown.

Babusi was determined to keep the winning tradition going. She finished with five shots on target and played the final three minutes of the game while limping after a collision.

“The people before us built us to this point,” Babusci said. “Everyone has worked harder and harder. Kids in the community, the freshmen, they see how good we’re doing. They join the team and see we have a winning community. They want to come into that and help us win even more.”

Avonworth (18-1-2) appeared to take the lead 15 minutes in. There was a scramble around the goal line. Syam seemed to poke the ball past Shady Side Academy keeper Maria Ravotti, but the shot was ruled to have been frozen by the goalkeeper.

Avonworth’s Fiona Mahan put a shot over the bar seven minutes later. That’s how things went for most of the match for the Antelopes. Many of their attempts went just wide or just over the net.

Avonworth coach J.C. Mahan said his team knows it can’t keep up with the 4.2 goals per game average it had in the regular season.

Shady Side Academy’s defense and keeper were also up to the task. Ravotti finished with eight saves.

“There’s not a weakness in their team,” Mahan said.“In those games, especially deeper in the playoffs, you know you aren’t going to score a lot of goals. It’s going to come from being composed.”

Babusci was composed when she led an attack down the far side of the field late in the half. She took a shot from 25 yards out that whistled over Raviotti.

Shady Side Academy (15-4-1) finished with six shots on net and had its best opportunity late. Shady Side Academy finished with six shots on net, including four by Caroline Liptak.

“Their pressure was always on top of us,” Shady Side Academy coach Mary Lynch said. “That made it hard to attack.

The Bulldogs hit a header off a free kick with 45 seconds remaining that nearly went in.

But Avonworth’s defense was able to keep the Bulldogs off the board. They were desperate to maintain their spot on top.

“There’s a lot more pressure for us,” Babusci said. “This is where we are expected to be. Our coach says we have a target on our backs. Everyone wants to beat No. 1.”

Avonworth will face the District 10 runner-up and Shady Side Academy will take on a play-in winner in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Tuesday.

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