Eight teams from A-K Valley join girls soccer championship chase

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 | 5:22 PM

Highlands was the final girls soccer team from the Alle-Kiski Valley invited to the WPIAL playoff party as the Golden Rams clinched a spot out of Section 2-AA with Monday night’s 2-1 overtime victory over Apollo-Ridge.

In the postseason for the first time since 2016, Highlands sets the area’s playoff contingent at eight.

The group — which includes section champions Burrell and Plum, as well as Fox Chapel, Kiski Area, Freeport, Deer Lakes and Springdale — now is making that transition from regular-season battles to the clean slate of the championship tournaments.

“The seniors knew that with being so close last year (two points from a playoff spot), they weren’t going to be satisfied with not making it to playoffs,” said Highlands head coach Jenna Plummer, whose team was 5-8 overall and 5-6 in section play heading into its section finale against Burrell on Tuesday.

“They wanted to leave their legacy with this program.”

All WPIAL qualifiers will find out their playoff fates early Wednesday afternoon with the unveiling of the brackets, including dates, times and locations of early round matchups.

“There’s going to be a lot of close matchups, and you have to have the fortitude to play through each one,” said Deer Lakes coach Frank Accetta, whose team capped Section 2-AA play Monday with a 3-2 overtime loss to section rival Freeport. The Lancers finished tied for second in the section with the Yellowjackets at 9-3.

“Everyone has to be prepared for anything and everything. Having your mind in the right place is a good place to start. No matter where you finish in your section, it all starts over again. Everybody who gets in has that chance.”

Plum, the co-champions of Section 3-AAA with Oakland Catholic at 11-1, owns the longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances at eight. Freeport is second with seven straight.

The Mustangs hope for a longer postseason run after last year’s first-round loss to Kiski Area.

The Cavaliers, Class AAA quarterfinalists last year, make their fifth straight playoff trip. The Section 1 runner-up to Mars has won eight of nine.

“There is optimism among the players,” Kiski Area coach Mike Spagnolo said. “They know they can play with anybody. We wanted to have them peaking at this point of the season, and I think they are.”

Burrell, which wrapped up its first section title since 2005 with Monday’s 3-0 win over Valley, entered Tuesday’s section finale with Highlands at 15-0, one of just two unbeaten and untied teams in the WPIAL (Freedom, 18-0).

The Bucs have been dominant at both ends of the field, outscoring their opponents 84-7 this season.

Freeport (13-4) is the only team to score more than one goal against Burrell. The Bucs topped the Yellowjackets 3-2 at Freeport on Sept. 18.

Fox Chapel is back in the dance after a one-year hiatus. The Foxes finished tied for fourth with Pine-Richland in Section 1-AAAA. They lost both games to section champion North Allegheny by one goal and went 3-1-1 against nonsection playoff qualifiers.

Coach Peter Torres said his team is conditioned to react and adjust to the different styles of play one often sees in the playoffs.

“The keys to our success have been our ability to play a possession style of game and not turn over the ball,” he said. “We have had success against teams by connecting passes and spreading the field.”

The underdogs in the playoffs need only look to the last two seasons for hope and promise. The Shady Side Academy boys, an 11th seed last year and 15th seed in 2017, made runs to capture back-to-back titles in Class AA.

Springdale first-year coach Marc Bentley hopes his team, fourth in Section 1-A at 5-5 and 7-9 overall heading into its regular-season finale Tuesday against South Side, can take advantage of its postseason opportunity.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress as the season has gone on,” he said, “so we are hoping everything we have been working on comes together.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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