Avonworth surges late to defeat Yough in WPIAL semifinals

Wednesday, November 4, 2020 | 10:27 PM

For nearly 38 minutes, Yough was on its heels but holding its own at Avonworth. However, two late first-half goals propelled the No. 5 Antelopes into the WPIAL Class 2A girls soccer finals with a 3-0 victory Wednesday night at Lenzner Field.

Avonworth (14-1-1) will face North Catholic, which was a 2-1 winner over Shady Side Academy, at noon Saturday at Gateway.

Avonworth’s Ava Wert and Eden Schleis tallied goals with the first-half clock dwindling down. Until that point, the No. 9 Cougars kept the Antelopes at bay despite dominating play throughout.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to do all year: keep the ball and take our opportunities when they present themselves,” Antelopes coach J.C. Mahan said. “I think we were able to do that today. Yough was a little more suppressed, and I know we’ve struggled with that earlier in the year.”

Packing it in on defense was the plan for the Cougars (11-5) in hopes of taking advantage of frustrating Avonworth. However, Yough had trouble all night getting any type of offense, managing just one shot that missed the goal wide right.

“(Avonworth) is a very good team. The plan for today was to defend and counter,” Cougar coach Dann Appolonia said. “We knew they had a lot of good players, and we absolutely could not get into a track meet.

“For the first 38 minutes, it worked. We were forcing long shots, not giving up high quality chances and there were a couple times where we countered and almost got something. Gameplan was to get outshot 10-2 but win 1-0.”

Those first-half opportunities for Yough came just past the midway mark of the first half. Twice the Cougars got through balls into the Antelopes’ defensive zone but were just a little deep and were gobbled up by Avonworth keeper Maggie Pappas.

Then, in the 38th minute, Wert got around Yough defender Makayla Dixon on the sideline and had about 15 yards of space with which to work. Wert found her way to the box and beat Cougar keeper Marin Sleith low left for a 1-0 lead.

Avonworth kept up the pressure as another shot by Wert was deflected in front of the goal. Schleis found herself at the right place at the right time and knocked home the loose ball with less than a minute to play in the half.

Schleis was the winner of the team’s “Dog Bone Award” in the previous Antelopes game.

“It’s for somebody going hunting and having a hungry-dog-like mentality,” Mahan said. “She had won it for our game at Southmoreland because she gave us a lot of pressure up front. I was happy for her to get that, and she was able to get a scrappy goal, or dog goal, tonight.”

Said Appolonia: “The last two minutes of the half really got us in trouble. I thought one of our players got fouled, which led to the first goal. Then we gave up a bad second goal and then an early third one (in the second half). I knew it was too steep of a hill to climb.”

The early third goal came just two minutes into the second half on another unlucky bounce. Jackie Laperski took a corner kick, and the ball was headered out of the box by a Yough player. However, the ball landed right at the foot of Minah Syam, who made the Cougars pay for it with a shot into the back of the net making it 3-0.

The Antelopes defense and midfield took over from there and did not allow an official shot until the 72nd minute when Nicole Veychek launched a shot from about 25 yards. The shot sailed wide right. It was the 11th shutout by Avonworth this season.

“The defense has been strong all year,” Mahan said. “I’m so happy we (posted a shutout) in the playoffs. Giving up one goal in the run of play in the playoffs is pretty good. I want to make sure we stay strong in the back and stay composed.”

Yough’s season came to an end, and it was quite a run for Cougars seniors Nicole Croushore, Natalie Vilchek and Jenna Leukhardt.

“No one expected us to make the semifinals, here they were playing for a chance to play for a championship,” Appolonia said. “Our three seniors, the four years they played, they were in the semifinals three of the four years.”

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